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5 Founder Buybacks--and What Became of Them

Michael Birch is is buying his company, Bebo, back from AOL. He's not the first founder to to suffer from a case of seller's remorse.
Bebo founder Michael Birch
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It seems Michael Birch has a case of seller's remorse. 

Birch, the co-founder of social networking site Bebo, announced yesterday via Twitter that's he's just re-purchased Bebo back from AOL, which had bought the company in 2005 for $850 million.

The kicker? Birch says he paid (just) $1 million for his old company and plans on "re-inventing" it. ("He should just keep selling it to AOL and then buying it back for less, ad infinitum," Sam Biddle joked.)

Inc. has a call in to Birch to see how, exactly, he plans to exhume the now-defunct start-up and make it relevant again. But while we wait for him to get back to us, we thought we'd indulge a little in the bravado of a few entrepreneurs who have reclaimed their companies from acquirers (or shareholders) that own them. Plenty of small business owners and start-up founders have gone this route, but here's a few of the more notable--and juicy--examples.

1. Skype co-founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friss

The Scandinavian duo behind Skype didn't have the smoothest transition after the $2.6 billion sale of their company to eBay in 2005. Within the first two years after the acquisition, there were at least four separate CEOs--including Zennstrom himself, who took up the role twice. In November 2009, after both founders officially left the company--and a slew of lawsuits were resolved--Zennstrom and Friss teamed up with private equity shop Silver Lake Partners and Andreessen Horowitz to repurchase the company. It didn't last for very long, though. In March 2011, Microsoft bought the company outright for $8.5 billion. 

2. StumbleUpon founder Garrett Camp

What's the deal with eBay acquisitions? Two years after the e-commerce site bought social disovery site StumbleUpon for $75 million, Garrett Camp, the company's founder, bought it back for about $29 million, according to TechCrunch. So why did Camp decide to buy the company back? "A desire for flexibility," he told TechCrunch. "I think bigger companies require more approvals, it takes longer to get stuff done. So I thought we would grow a lot faster if we were a smaller company." Since Camp repurchased the company, he's gone an all-out crusade to revive the brand. "The company reports more than 20 million registered users "stumbling" seven hours a month, the same amount Facebook users spend fiddling with their profiles," Fortune reported last year on the company's comeback. "Desktop and mobile use is on the rise as well: 20 percent month-over-month and 35 percent month-over-month, respectively."

3. Dell founder Michael Dell

Michael Dell isn't necessarily buying his company back from an acquirer, but by taking the company private--as he is in the midst of doing--he'll get the leverage to put Dell's future back on track. "Under the terms of the agreement, Dell stockholders will receive $13.65 in cash for each share of Dell common stock they hold, in a transaction valued at approximately $24.4 billion," a company notice explains. The deal hasn't gone through yet--mostly because of opposition from billionaire Carl Icahn. 

4. Best Buy founder Richard Schulze (sort of)

In early 2012, Best Buy founder Richard Schulze resigned from the company amidst his role in turning a blind eye at a company scandal involving a top executive's shady "personal conduct" (i.e. an affair) with a certain 29-year-old female employee. In August of 2012, Schulze made a valiant attempt to buy Best Buy for about $8.5 billion in a mix of stock and cash, and take the company private again. Ultimately, the board voted down the offer, but there was a silver lining--the board let him back on as chairman emeritus in March 2013. "My dedication to the company that I founded and love is unwavering," Schulze said in a company statement. So far, it appears his return has coincided with a pretty stellar financial performance: Since January 2013, the company's stock price has surged to $28 in July, up from $11. 

5. The Oreck family (later this year)

David Oreck founded his vacuum company as a mail-order firm in 1963. The company is now controlled by Black Diamond Commercial Finance, a private equity group that purchased the company a decade ago, and has slowly driven it into the ground. Last year, the company filed for bankrupcy. However, the Oreck clan is working on a bid to buy the company back. Thomas Oreck, the son of David Oreck and the company CEO from 1997 to 2007, said he's "working diligently to negotiate a deal that would benefit the company."

Last updated: Jul 3, 2013




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