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Hot or Not Creator James Hong Doesn't Care if He Strikes It Rich or Not With New App

Cakey is a way for parents to create and find playlists of kid-safe videos.

Hot or Not co-founder James Hong will readily admit why he is making a new app.

“My goal is to be cool again, to some extent,” he said this week over fizzy hipster sodas at Calafia Cafe in Palo Alto. “I need to rebuild my street cred.”

Unlike some of his peers who have a stronger case of the startup itch, Hong took the last six years off.

Sure, he has made startup investments — more than 50 of them, including Medium and AngelList. And he has always been relevant to certain Silicon Valley crowds, especially to those among them who were young founders in the dot-com era. Hot or Not helped get other seminal companies like BitTorrent and Twitter off the ground by giving them server space.

And that simple idea of the rating site Hot or Not, silly as it was, is still something people remember and talk about. You hardly have to explain that it was a site where people submitted pictures and other users rated them on a scale of one to 10, and that it eventually evolved into a dating product. It was sold in 2008 for more than $20 million, and Hong notes it made more money than that in lifetime earnings and had no outside investors.

But Hong, 41, is not starting a new company now to make money. He is very clear on that point.

His new iOS app Cakey is a way for parents to create and find playlists of kid-safe videos. He made it himself, his first coding project in 15 years.

Cakey is a wrapper for YouTube videos. That’s it. YouTube wouldn’t be stoked if Hong slapped ads on or around the videos, and Hong doesn’t want to anyway. He got a deal for free Amazon hosting for the first year, so his costs are literally zero dollars.

“I’ve made my money, I don’t care,” Hong said.

Hong made Cakey (like “keiki,” for “kid” in Hawaiian) for his son, who is now five years old.

The app includes an optional feature that pauses the video and says, in Hong’s own voice, “Okay, take a bite” every minute, because his son can be hard to convince to eat.

So yes, it’s very personalized to Hong’s own needs, but perhaps those can be generalized to other parents of young kids, too. The app doesn’t look professionally designed, but Hong said that’s on purpose, because kids want functional apps instead of nice design. He has talked to YouTube about its future plans for kids’ content (because of course he knows people at YouTube), and said he’ll readily concede if the video site someday ends up doing a better job for kids than Cakey does.

Hong said he is ready for people to criticize him for going from a shallow looks-rating site to a kids video app. He’s even ready for people to judge him for encouraging bad parenting. “Screen-time in and of itself isn’t bad, just don’t overdo it,” he said. “It’s like not eating, because eating will lead to obesity.”

Hong just wants to be relevant. He would really like if a lot of kids and parents like his app. “People think I’m lazy, but I don’t care to be a billionaire,” he said. “I know billionaires, and I don’t think it changes people’s lives for the better.”

This article originally appeared on

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