Once Sold for $850 Million, Bebo Founders Buy the Company Back for $1 Million

Once Sold for $850 Million, Bebo Founders Buy the Company Back for $1 Million
Image credit: BBC
Bebo founders Xochi and Michael Birch

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It's been a long and winding road for Bebo, the social network that was launched in San Francisco in 2005. After being sold for hundreds of millions of dollars and later being bounced from owner to owner, the site is back in the hands of its original founders, Michael and Xochi Birch.

On Twitter, Michael Birch tweeted that he had bought back Bebo for $1 million. Bebo had recently been the subject of a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy auction which was managed by Burlingame, Calif.-based Burke Capital.

The Birches plan to revamp Bebo through Birch's San Francisco-based idea lab, The Monkey Inferno, which includes a team of 21 engineers, designers and product people.

"Most people roll their eyes when they think of successful web comebacks because there really aren't very many," says Monkey Inferno chief executive Saan Puri. "Bebo hasn't necessarily evolved with the times. But it has a user base of people who have a lot of love for Bebo, and we feel that there is a real opportunity to make Bebo a great product again."

Related: 3-D Printing Startup MakerBot Acquired for $403 Million

Puri declined to offer specific details about their plans to relaunch the site, but said it will not be their intention to compete with Facebook. "If we did that we would most likely fail," he says. "If we focus only on a 'comeback,' we will probably fail. We want to go back to the same fundamentals that were in mind when Bebo was first launched and bring them into this day and age.

"Bebo wasn't created to be a social network," Puri adds. "It was a fun place that connected people. We want to rediscover that personality and vibe."

The Birches created Bebo in 2005 as a site where users could upload blogs, photos, music and videos. The site quickly grew to 40 million users and the Birches sold Bebo to AOL in 2008 for $850 million.

But interest in Bebo waned among users as competitors like Facebook began to gain popularity. By February 2010, Bebo's global unique visitors reportedly plummeted to 12.8 million, down 45 percent compared to Feburary 2009. That was compared to Facebook's 462 million visitors, MySpace's nearly 110 million and Twitter's 69.5 million at the time.

AOL offloaded Bebo in June 2010 to hedge fund Criterion Partners, reportedly for less than $10 million. Puri declined to say how many users are currently active on Bebo.

Bebo's founders aren't the only ones attempting to reinvent a once-popular social-media site that fell out of favor. Specific Media's Tim and Chris Vanderhook, along with pop singer and actor Justin Timberlake recently relaunched Myspace. Specific Media acquired Myspace from News Corp. in 2011 for about $35 million.

Related: In Yahoo Deal, Tumblr Becomes the Next $1 Billion Startup

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