Will the Bebo buy back beguile or bore us?

Sell a company for $850 million, buy it back for $1 million five years later. That is a really good way to make some serious money. And that is just what Michael Birch, the owner, founder and shareholder of Bebo has done this week.
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Bebo (Blog early, blog often) was founded by Michael Birch and his wife Xochi in January 2005 and quickly became popular in overseas markets such as the UK.

Michael Birch, Founder and owner of Bebo. Image: Wikipedia

In the UK the site overtook MySpace as the most popular social networking site to claim the top slot for social sites before being overtaken by Facebook.

It was bought by AOL for $850 million in 2008.

Less than two years later AOL announced that the struggling site would require a ‘significant investment to remain competitive.

Randy Falco, CEO of AOL was fired from AOL in 2009 only a year after the Bebo acquisition.

Bebo was then sold to Criterion Capital for $10 million in 2010 after AOL said that it would not continue to fund the service.

However it continued to struggle against increasing competition from other social networking sited and it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2013.

"Never say never, but I can probably rule out buying it back. Bebo was my life when I was running it and I don't want that again".

~Michael Birch founder and owner, Bebo.

The news of the Bebo buy back was broken by Birch himself who tweeted:

“We just bought Bebo back for $1m. Can we actually re-invent it? Who knows, but it will be fun trying...”

Birch has done a U-turn on the purchase of Bebo. In March 2011 he was not keen to buy it back.

"Never say never, but I can probably rule out buying it back. Bebo was my life when I was running it and I don't want that again.

The guys there approached me, the CTO is a good friend of mine and I have a lot of ideas I'm still excited about -- but I don't see any scenario where I'd buy it back.”

Birch did not like managing Bebo when it grew and became a large organisation: "When it became fairly political internally… it just stopped being fun." he said in an interview with the BBC in 2011.

So will Birch succeed with the re-invention of Bebo? He certainly has a great pedigree for innovation and creating new start-ups.

He founded BirthdayAlarm.com in 2001 after the dotcom crash. Birthday Alarm grew to two million members by 2002. His next venture Ringo.com attracted 400,000 users before being sold in 2003.

Birch has invested in start-ups as diverse as Slice, Friend.ly, Mixpanel and Pinterest. He seems to know when to buy in to a success story and more importantly to get out of a failing venture just in time.

Facebook seems to have been sitting on its laurels since its IPO. There has been little innovation and growth. Users are frustrated by the privacy glitches and lack of customer service.  Companies are pulling adverts from Facebook after it refused to remove ‘anti-women’ content.

Perhaps the re-invention of Bebo might just tempt us away from Facebook and back to our social networking roots.

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