The founder returns – Birch is back at Bebo

9 Dec 2010

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Bebo founder Michael Birch has returned to the company he sold to AOL in 2008 for US$850m. He will join the company as strategic adviser and has reinvested in the company.

Earlier this year, AOL said it would sell or shut down Bebo because of plummeting traffic, and eventually sold it to venture capital firm Criterion Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. It has been suggested that the sale raised less than $10m.

In recent months I spoke to Birch about Bebo in AOL’s hands. In his view, AOL failed to make the most of Bebo, but with a new CEO in place he said he believes it can be rejuvenated

“The new owners have put in a lot of effort and focus; they’ve made some good hires on the product and engineering front. I can never see it overtaking Facebook but there’s a niche it can carve out,” he said at the time.

He believed AOL didn’t focus enough on Bebo or buy into it properly. “They changed CEO right after the acquisition and I don’t think he bought into the vision so how could it succeed? It was never given that real chance to be what it could be. It reached rock bottom and was sold. But now I think, with the right CEO and investors behind it, it could climb back.”

Re-inventing Bebo

On his return to Bebo today, he said: “I’m super excited to be involved with Bebo again. The world of social networking has changed significantly since we started Bebo, and even more so since we sold it.

“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 his role as strategic adviser, Birch will provide his expertise and eye for product innovation working with CEO Adam Levin, newly hired chief product officer Kevin Bachus, best known as one of the four co-creators of Xbox, and CTO Akash Garg, co-founder of Hi-5.

Since selling Bebo to AOL, Birch has remained an active leader in the tech community, with a portfolio of investments in the consumer internet space. Most recently, Birch launched a social network for the politically inclined, currently only available in Ireland, called Jolitics.com. He also played a major role in the launch of mycharitywater.org to help bring clean water to millions of people throughout the world.

“Having the founder back in Bebo’s corner will bring enormous energy to our team and Bebo’s users,” said Levin.

“Michael was way ahead of the times when he created Bebo and remains a person with the vision and talent to help us innovate going forward,” Levin said.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com