Tumblr's David Karp in his own words: a Pando meta media mashup
Earlier this week, David Karp agreed to sell Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion in cash, netting more than $200 million for himself. It's a deal that makes sense for both sides. Yahoo gets a whole lot more real estate to run ads while Tumblr, per the agreement, continues to operate as a separate business. Together the two companies count as many users as Facebook – around a billion, give or take.
Over the years David Karp has had plenty to say, so we figured we’d provide a little hyperlink madness. Here he tells his story – entirely in his own words.
I was a pretty Internet-savvy kid growing up. My dad bought HTML For Dummies for me when I was 11. I was just bored tooling away on my computer and I think I just started messing around with making something on the computer. I would run around the neighborhood building little storefront Web sites. I didn’t want people knowing I was a teenager, because I didn’t want to be sending the wrong impression. I tried to deepen my voice on the phone, but I’d still get mistaken for a girl. I was so silly. I tried to be very formal and put on a deep voice to clients over the phone so I didn't have to meet them and give away how young I was. I lied about my age. I lied about the size of my team. I lied about my experience. I was so terribly embarrassed about it for so long. I should have just owned up.
Where I feel the most productive and engaged is when I’m buried in code, buried in some project, tweaking some designs. I’m certainly introverted. The whole binge-drinking, staying-up-late, hipster lifestyle has never been attractive to me. I never spent much time with people my own age. I can’t imagine where I would be today if it weren’t for people who had just the right thing to say at exactly the right time.
Tumblr started pretty modestly. I had tried to set up blogs, I tried to tweet, used Flickr and Delicious, I wanted something that allowed me to be more expressive, to present myself in a way I was proud of. Something that I really wanted out of my website, out of my blog, was something much more free form, something much less verbose where I could share the things that I was like working on, the things I was just coming across on the Web, be it like a funny YouTube video or a photo of something I just took, and the tools at the time really weren’t built for that.
I really wanted an identity online. I wanted something online to call "me." Sometime in 2005, I came across a tumblelog called Projectionist, [which] solved the posting problems of WordPress with a brilliant aesthetic sense: You can put up bits of media but the theme or the "skin" will take care of the aesthetics, and the media will be in nice little enclosures. Video will come up in a nice frame, blurbs will come up in nice little bubbles, there will be the ability to make gorgeous typography quotes. I was running a consulting company in 2006, and one month we had two weeks between contracts where we were just sitting around, and I said "Hey, let's go for it. Let's see if we can build this thing." It took [Marco Arment and me] two weeks to build, and it became the first version of Tumblr. The day Marco and I launched Tumblr, we set up this stats page to watch registrations. That was a really fun day :) Overnight we had like 30,000 registered users.
Ten years ago there were maybe hundreds of people creating digital content; I wanted to be one of those prolific people, with an identity and a presence. Today there are millions of people making stuff and putting it into the world: that's become part of our identity and it shouldn't be limited to people who fancy themselves writers, or who are particularly witty or talented: curation is a new, more accessible way to express yourself. Distribution used to be controlled by the radio or publishers, but you can get a bigger audience through Tumblr or YouTube – the economics of that haven't quite caught up. Kickstarter and Etsy are part of that whole new economics, and with things like that coming up, the next Justin Bieber won't graduate out of YouTube for profit. They'll graduate from whatever open platform works for their media.
At the core we have this community of millions of creators who make the stuff – and around them this big web of tens of millions of curators, people who are slicing and dicing it into little channels, blogs full of the stuff they care deeply about. And they have this big audience. . . who show up every month who can find the content organized into channels that can be so nuanced, thoughtful and specific. Even if you’re not the guy who gets in front of the camera and plays guitar you can still express a point of view, be creative, through the stuff that you select.
We are not cash-flow positive yet, which means we are always running out of money. There was no expectation we were selling the company. This was our providence. Investors wanted to know: 'Are you hiring as many people as you should? And, if you had more people, could you move faster?' They asked me that question all the time.
Frankly, keeping up with growth. . . presented more work than our small team was prepared for. [In 2010] an issue arose that took down a critical database cluster. This brought down our entire network while our engineers worked feverishly to restore these databases and bring your blogs back online. I was such a stubborn perfectionist until it became really clear we had to bring other people in, because having it all fall on me was really slowing us down. Sorry we let you down.
I’m elated to tell you that Tumblr will be joining Yahoo. Before touching on how awesome this is, let me try to allay any concerns: We’re not turning purple. Our headquarters isn’t moving. Our team isn’t changing. Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission – to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve – certainly isn’t changing.
1. “Where Does Tumblr's Founder Find Inspiration?” by Lauren Dell, Mashable.
2. Cartier “Make Your Move” ad, 2011.
3. “David Karp is the Barely Legal Blogfather,” Maxim.
4. “David Karp, Founder of Tumblr, on Realising His Dream,” by Josh Halliday, Guardian.
5. “Before Tumblr, Founder Made Mom Proud. He Quit School,” by Jenna Wortham and Nick Bilton, New York Times.
6. “Would You Take a Tumblr With This Man?” by Doree Shafrir, New York Observer.
7. Cartier “Make Your Move” ad, 2011.
8. “I Meet Tumblr Whiz-Kid David Karp,” by Paul Mason, BBC.
9. “David Karp: Why I Started Tumblr,” interview by Chris Dixon.
10. “So What Do You Do, David Karp, Founder of Tumblr?” by Sammy Davis, mediabistro.
11. “David’s Log,” by David Karp, Dec. 11, 2008.
12. “So What Do You Do, David Karp, Founder of Tumblr?” by Sammy Davis, mediabistro.
13. “I Meet Tumblr Whiz-Kid David Karp,” by Paul Mason, BBC.
14. “Watch David Karp’s Talk about Tumblr from Wired 2012,” by Liat Clark, Wired UK.
15. “I Meet Tumblr Whiz-Kid David Karp,” by Paul Mason, BBC.
16. “David Karp, 26, Tumblr Founder, Is Multimillionaire,” by Steven Lee, Daily Press Dot Com.
17. “Lessons Learned: How Tumblr Recovered from a Business Crisis,” by Teri Evans, Entrepreneur.
18. “Downtime,” Tumblr Staff Blog.
19. “Lessons Learned: How Tumblr Recovered from a Business Crisis,” by Teri Evans, Entrepreneur.
20. “Downtime,” Tumblr Staff Blog.
21. “Flashback: Tumblr Founder David Karp’s Words of Wisdom to Entrepreneurs,” by William Wei, Business Insider.