David Karp first visited Sequoia in October 2010, when Tumblr was a 12-person blogging startup. Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures described David as an inspiration and told us we had to meet him.
What followed was one of the fastest decisions in our firm’s history.
David sat down with a few of us at 11 a.m. It was clear he had identified a problem that he knew about firsthand and he knew how to solve it.
His first objective was creating an easy-to-use, aesthetically-beautiful place for people to express themselves, and to build a network around it to allow people to follow and share what they love.
His presentation said: "Total freedom of expression. An identity you’re truly proud of. A network of people sharing and following the things they love."
Beyond that, though, it was his passion and sincerity that hooked us.
When our meeting ended at noon, we corralled the rest of the partners and brought them into the room so they could meet David. By the dinner that night, we were the ones courting him.
(David was the unnamed founder I was referring to in this post from back then.)
The Tumblr vision is a simple one. It gives people a place to showcase their work, whether that work is landscape paintings, commentary on architecture, or photos of cats with things on their heads. And it provides a connective tissue between these creators and their audiences.
While there were plenty of ways online to follow your friends or personalities you like, there wasn’t a good way to follow things you were interested in.
Tumblr is technically elegant and visually beautiful. It’s often been compared to a work of art, which isn’t far off.
So it’s no surprise that Tumblr became one of the premier places for topics like fashion, technology and travel.
There was a lot of effort to get there, of course. Soon after we started working with Tumblr, its website crashed for about eight hours. The company struggled to handle the infrastructure demands of its exploding popularity. And at the time, a contractor was doing its mobile development.
It’s a credit to David and his team that in relatively short amount of time they’ve built a service that has more than 300 million unique visitors a month.
Their willingness to embrace mobile has also yielded wondrous results. The Tumblr app is among the most downloaded and most positively reviewed in the app store.
Tumblr resisted traditional Web advertising. Always the visionary, David felt that there must be a way to make the ads as visually appealing as the rest of the experience. They eventually hit upon a unique approach that, in David’s words, gave agencies “space and a canvas to create ads that win awards.”
The result allows for creative brand advertising that hasn’t had a place to live on the web to date, not targeted links. The first ads sold out almost instantly. David and his team managed to pull that off while staying true to what Tumblr is all about.
We’re excited that Tumblr will operate independently within Yahoo!, right down to its own letterhead. It will still be based in New York, which is a big win for the city’s burgeoning tech scene. Tumblr has the potential to become an anchor company that creates jobs and spurs entrepreneurship for years to come.
We see parallels to the PayPal and YouTube acquisitions. In both instances the companies were granted the autonomy they need to thrive while benefiting from the resources of eBay and Google, respectively.
Tumblr will still be about passion and interest. It will remain the preeminent destination for creators who want to showcase their work. And it will remain the way to follow what you love. Even more so going forward as Yahoo!’s technology helps people discover new creators and content.
Congratulations to David and everyone at Tumblr. This isn’t the end by any means, but it’s a momentous day and a wonderful time to pause and celebrate everything they’ve accomplished.