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Buying Back the Company

Being owned by eBay was making StumbleUpon sleepy, Garrett Camp concluded. He knew how to fix that.  
Garrett Camp, StumbleUpon

Courtesy Subject

Garrett Camp, founder of StumbleUpon

For years, Garrett Camp ran StumbleUpon, a service for discovering and sharing webpages, part time while finishing his master's thesis at the University of Calgary. In 2007, within a year of moving the company to San Francisco, he sold it to eBay. In 2009, he organized an investor group to buy the company back.

At eBay, I had a boss, but I still managed all the product engineering. The day-to-day flow really wasn't that different. But we weren't getting the same people to apply to join. We were seeing people who were looking for a conservative, stable job rather than something with a little more risk and a lot of upside.

The lack of flexibility was the biggest issue. At one point, we had to hire a database administrator, and they said, "Oh, there's a hiring freeze." And I was like, "Sure, eBay has a hiring freeze, but how can you stop us from hiring the one critical position we need to keep the site running?"

I started thinking about a spinout in the summer of 2008. I talked to my boss, and he talked to other executives at eBay. I also contacted one of my old investors, Ram Shriram, who talked to people he knew on eBay's board. Because we were part of a public company, we had to be discreet.

The spinout was a complicated negotiation. It took six months of discussions, and then several months to find investors. I'd never really made the rounds of Sand Hill Road before. I'd had a lot of casual meetings with investors, but with the spinout, I actually had to give presentations and say why StumbleUpon was a good investment.

Once we became independent again, in April 2009, there was just a sense of energy and excitement. The spinout basically reset us to a start-up. We had years of experience and a lot of scale, yet we were a brand-new company. All of a sudden, we were able to attract great candidates. Within nine months, we were on full throttle. When we left eBay, we had 300 million stumbles [page recommendations] per month. Now we have over 1 billion. We've released new mobile applications and relaunched our ad system. Our agility and nimbleness are a lot higher, because we have a lot more people who really want to make something cool and have a big impact.

From the July/August 2011 issue of Inc. magazine

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