Birth of a Tumblr

Oh, to be 25 again. And rich. And the founder of one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world.

David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, arrived 10 minutes late to speak to a sizable audience of students and professors at VCU’s School of Mass Communications on April 2. Nobody seemed to care that he was late. Dressed in black skinny jeans, a plaid shirt and a gray hoodie, Karp looked more like one of my son’s friends than the leader of an Internet upstart. Actually, maybe this is what leaders of Internet upstarts do look like.

One student tweeted that Karp “looks like the long lost 5th Beatle.” (You can read more of the live-tweets in this Storify account of the event.)

But all similarities to either my son’s friends or to the Beatles ended there. The guy is brilliant. He started selling computers at 15, dropped out of school at 16, learned the ropes of web development here and in Japan (to which he escaped after a girl broke his heart), and caught the blogging bug in 2005. The problem was that he didn’t like the limitations and the “big, empty text box” of standard blogging platforms. So he created one of his own that emphasizes the sharing of multimedia — photos, videos and music.

Today, Tumblr has more than 50 million users who post 600 new items every second. There are creators and there are curators who share the creations with the broader audience — 9 out of 10 posts are shared items. Although unintentional, communities began to pop up across the platform and today Tumblrs of all ages can be found all over the world.

Two principles guided Tumblr’s creation and growth: let people share anything and customize everything. So simple, yet so effective.

The takeaway for me was that David Karp identified a need and found a creative way to meet it. And it made him a millionaire. It’s a formula that has worked millions, if not billions, of times over the years. It’s just that most of us don’t tap into such an enormous need with such a creative solution before the age of 20.


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