How Jeff Hamada turned a simple blog into one of the largest online art platforms

The founder of Booooooom spoke about the growth of his online art platform and community over the past decade.

What does Jeff Hamada and Kanye West have in common? Well, for one, both of them had a blog in 2008.

While Hamada started as a hobby after working in the street fashion industry, he attributes some of his early blog success to KanyeUniverCity — which reblogged some of his content and drove over plenty of web traffic back then.

“I would like to think it was [Kanye] but I’m sure he had a whole team working on it,” Hamada said. “It wasn’t long before Booooooom had enough of a following that I was able to turn it into a real job.”

Since then, Booooooom has — pun intended — exploded into an online community focused on helping emerging artists and photographers. It is now Canada’s highest-traffic art platform, and one of the largest on the internet. 

The website features a wide array of work and often commission creatives to work on projects with brands. Artists also have an opportunity to receive feedback on their work and access to resources to help them develop their career on Booooooom’s private Slack community.

Cold Tea Collective talked to the Vancouver, B.C.-based Booooooom founder about what it’s like to run an online platform in 2019 and his advice for emerging artists. 

Starting Booooooom

For Hamada, the website started off as a personal journal to share designs he was working on as a freelance graphic designer, and to also post about places he visited or art that he liked. 

“I got tired of talking about my own stuff pretty quick and as soon as I started really focusing on featuring other people’s work, I found it more fun to work on,” Hamada said. 

He describes his style as embracing “variety” and “always wanting to be moving forward” — even noting that he has a hard time doing the same thing twice, such as going on hikes because of having to walk back the same way.

As an Asian in the creative art space, Hamada also recognizes the respect shown to Asians in the design world — and hasn’t faced any pushback in his career.

“When I was working in streetwear before I started Booooooom, Kevin Ma (founder of Hypebeast) had invited me to have a personal blog on Hypebeast and I gained a decent following because of that,” he said, adding that many of the best brands and iconic designers were from Japan. “So maybe being Japanese and having Kevin vouch for me helped a lot. I might have experienced pushback if I started an art site and expected art galleries and curators to care about my opinion right away but I wasn’t trying to start an art site or be taken seriously in the art world. I already had an audience so I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone.”

That said, he sees Booooooom as a contributor to the increase of Asian creative visibility in the community as well.

“I like being able to use the platform to highlight underrepresented groups wherever possible,” he said. “I don’t know how often I am thinking about myself as an Asian creative or in the context of an Asian creative community, I’m just trying to showcase the best work by every kind of person.”

Evolution of blogs and online community in 2019

Much has changed since Booooooom launch about 11 years ago, in particular the popularization of smartphones — and the hyper internet and social media age that we currently live in. Online independent publishing is proving to be more difficult and not as easy as it was a decade ago. 

“You used to be able to run a few web banners and if you had a decent sized audience that was all you needed to keep a site running,” Hamada said. “A few years ago, my partner Levi and I saw the writing on the wall and knew we had to make a shift.”

This led to paid membership for creatives who wanted to connect with like-minded individuals and share work within a private community. Since implementing this, membership has grown rapidly — and instead of having to worry about pageview and chasing click-bait news, Booooooom can now focus on content that speaks to its members. 

“There’s a very tangible responsibility there and the more we show we actually care about helping them, the more they want to support our community,” he said.

Hamada adds that it’s a universal truth that people want to connect with one another, and for those who are even a bit creative, they will want to do it in a creative way. 

“We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re usually giving people an excuse to do something they already want to do.”

Recently, Hamada wrote a post on Instagram offering free encouragement to anyone who requested it and spent hours responding to people. Sometimes, a simple act of encouragement is all that’s needed.

Advice for emerging artists

“You’re going to have to make a thousand bad things before you make something really great, so making things is a big part of it,” Hamada said. “The bigger part though is developing taste. Look at all the things other people say are the best — the things people consider ‘masterpieces’ — and try to understand what’s good about them.”

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