Michael Birch, the founder of Bebo, is returning to where it all began, signing on as an investor and advisor to the social network he built and later sold to AOL for $850 million. It’s unclear how much Birch has invested in Bebo or if the investment is related to the proposed sale that Om reported was in the works last week.
But it nonetheless represents a major, perhaps desperate, effort to turn the company around by wooing back the man who started it. Birch obviously has a lot of money after selling the company to AOL in 2008. The deal never panned out for AOL, which couldn’t compete with Facebook and later unloaded the social network for less than $10 million to Criterion Capital Partners.
Birch, who launched a political social network called Jolitics.com after selling Bebo, will join Bebo CEO Adam Levin, former Hi-5 CTO, Akash Garg, and Kavin Bachus, the co-creator of Microsoft’s Xbox, who is now serving as chief product officer. So is Bebo going to try to make a serious go of it or is this team still in the market to sell? Om reported that there were many interested buyers looking at the price tag, somewhere between $20 and $25 million, but Levin has been telling reporters that the company is not looking to sell.
Despite the company ownership changing hands a few times, Bebo still has a solid audience of an estimated 110 million members, many of them younger users, who are accessing Bebo from mobile devices. Bebo’s mobile traffic has doubled since it was sold and now represents 1.5 billion page views monthly, compared with 7 billion page views on the web currently. It’s still a tall order going up against Facebook and other social networks, but Birch believes he can again work his magic on his baby. “There is a huge opportunity to re-invent Bebo, to approach social from a different perspective and create a viable alternative to the now established market leaders,” Birch said in a statement. I think there is still room for social networking competitors that address specific markets but they have to be unique, laser focused and execute extremely well. Birch could bring some of that to Bebo, but it’ll take some serious to work to return Bebo to relevance.
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