michael birch
Monkey Inferno

Bebo’s Founder Michael Birch Says He’s Bought Back The Social Network For $1M, Plans To ‘Reinvent’ It

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Another turn in the twisted life of social network Bebo, which has unfortunately gone in the direction of a downward spiral for much of the last couple of years: the site appears to have been bought back by its founder Michael Birch for $1 million. Birch originally sold the company to Aol (owners of TechCrunch) for some $850 million back in 2008, and has since been a part of the group that has tried to rescue Bebo after Aol offloaded it. Birch now says he wants to “re-invent” it:

For a pretty tiny pricetag, this won’t be a case of “reinvent or die trying,” but it will be interesting to see how and if Birch can inject something new into the company, years after Bebo fell well behind the likes of Facebook and Twitter in the race among social media platforms.

The move comes about seven weeks after Bebo filed for Chapter 11 voluntary bankruptcy protection, at which point it was put under the receivership of the Burke Capital Corporation, which has been handling an auction of its assets.

Confusingly, prior to that Chapter 11 filing, the company had been jointly owned by Criterion Capital Corporation, as well as a consortium of investors that include Birch and his co-founder wife, Xochi. It appears that part of the issue has been that the group was unhappy with how that co-ownership arrangement was working, and so was intentionally trying to move it into a sell-off state, starting in February of this year.

In other words, Birch’s strategy has been going to plan so far. But shareholder wrangling is one thing. Now comes the hard part: trying to figure out if there is any life left for Bebo in an overcrowded market.

We’re reaching out to Birch and other shareholders, as well as Burke Capital, and will update this post as we learn more.

Update: Shaan Puri, the CEO of Monkey Infero, the incubator financed and run by Birch, confirmed to me that indeed Birch had won the auction for the assets — he had been one of three bidders.

Puri says that unlike the last time that Birch bought into Bebo, with Criterion and other shareholders, in this go he will be sole owner, developing it via Monkey Inferno: “It was important for us to be able to control our own destiny here,” says Puri. “That was part of the appeal.”

Monkey Inferno currently has 21 full-time employees, and it has started to work on a relaunch of the site. But Puri was mum on what this will entail: no comment on whether it would be mainly mobile or online/desktop; what would be its business model; or even if it would be another social network. But he did note that Monkey Inferno is hiring mobile developers, and that Bebo would be in some way returning to its roots: “Bebo has always been about connecting people and was fun,” he said. “At its peak it had more on time site per user than Facebook. We want it to continue to be that: a place to help people to connect and that will be fun to use.”