#WhenIGrowUp Wednesdays: Jonah Peretti

#WhenIGrowUp Wednesdays features stories of people who reinvented themselves, or who came to a crossroads and chose a different path, or who rediscovered, or returned to the pursuit of their youthful passion.


You should feel badly if you’re doing something that isn’t the right fit for you, and isn’t the thing that you’re passionate about, and doesn’t fit your strengths, and the things you’re interested in doing. – Jonah Peretti

Jonah PerettiJonah Peretti’s name may not be immediately recognizable to the general public, but mention The Huffington Post, or Buzzfeed, and anyone who is active online will probably nod their heads. Peretti was a founding member of both of these internet success stories. He grew up in California, received a degree in environmental studies, then taught at a college prep school in New Orleans. It was when he was back at university studying for his Masters’ at the MIT Media Lab, that he created his first viral sensation.

It was early 2001, and Peretti was procrastinating. Instead of working on his Masters’ thesis, he was surfing the web. He’d heard that Nike was accepting online orders for customizable shoes, where a person’s name could be placed under the Nike swoosh. Some words had been blacklisted, but Peretti kept trying until, finally, the word sweatshop went through.

When Nike rejected the order the following day, because sweatshop was “inappropriate slang,” a series of emails were exchanged. In the end, Peretti created a cut-and-paste of the correspondence, and emailed it out to his friends who, in turn, emailed it to their friends, and it made history as the first forwarded email to go viral. Jonah Peretti ended up on the Today Show with a Nike PR executive and Katie Couric! For the full story, google Nike sweatshop email. Yes, it’s actually a thing.


The viral email experience was important to Peretti for two reasons: Firstly, it was the beginning of his fascination with how content was used by people to connect with each other, to express themselves politically and culturally, and to combat loneliness. Secondly, it introduced him to his future business partners. The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed used evolving technology, including algorithms and data measurement, to communicate through content. Today, Peretti continues as CEO at Buzzfeed, and is proud to have refused a buyout offer from Disney.

If you love that, if you love the struggle, and that’s part of why you do it, it also makes selling a company a lot less appealing. – Jonah Peretti

Sources: Business Insider, CNBC, Wikipedia

~ Debbie MacLeod

The CREATIVE CHANGE-MAKING Conference has been organized to showcase local heroes, individuals from within our own communities, who are creating their own path, leading by example, and following their dreams through purposeful work.

Intrigued? Come listen to the stories. Ask questions. Be inspired to change your life!

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