At one time, social-networking site Bebo was worth $850 million. But as its user base dwindled, so did its value, enabling the site's founders to buy it back last month for just $1 million.
Today, the founders voluntarily shut down the social network they created as they prepare to re-launch it.
“I think we can all agree, it’s time to wipe the slate clean,” says owner and co-founder Michael Birch in a video posted on the site today. The video got so many clicks that it temporarily crashed the site, but it can still be viewed on YouTube. In the provocative and humorous video, which runs just over a minute, Birch talks about the proliferation of inappropriate drawings that users put on Bebo with the whiteboard feature, which allowed users to create digital drawings. (See bottom of this article to watch the video.)
“The new Bebo will be very different from the old one,” he says.
Photos and blog posts belonging to members will be archived and available for export in a few months, Shaan Puri, chief executive of Bebo, tells Entrepreneur.com.
“Will it work? Who knows,” says Birch in his distinctive British accent. “But one thing’s for certain. It will be fun trying.” The first 10,000 people to sign up for the new Bebo will be able to play with a beta version, says Puri.
The video teasing the "new Bebo," something of a spoof on formal corporate videos, was produced by Rubber Republic, an ad agency known for its cheeky work with Gillete and Bodyform. “We worked with them to create a video that would at once be personal, humorous, and poke fun at the old Bebo before moving on to the next chapter,” says Puri. The entire video was written, shot, and edited in a single weekend, he says.
Bebo has been on a wild ride since it was launched in 2005 in San Francisco by Michael and Xochi Birch. The social-networking site, where users could upload blogs, photos, music and videos, grew to 40 million users at its peak. The Birches sold Bebo to AOL in 2008 for $850 million. AOL in turn sold Bebo to the hedge fund Criterion Partners for something around $10 million, according to reports.
Then, a bit over a month ago when Bebo was in a bankruptcy auction, Birch tweeted that he had bought back Bebo for $1 million.
The urge to reinvent a dying tech company is appealing, but a long shot. Birch and his team seem to know and embrace the challenge.
“Buying back Bebo for $1 million was a smart move. High reward, relatively low risk,” says Puri. “It's not about bringing the old Bebo back; it's about the old Bebo founders coming back and making something new and exciting. We have a prototype of the new Bebo that we're using in-house, and we're already hooked. Very few tech comebacks have ever succeeded, but I think that's what makes this so interesting.”