Buying Back the Company
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.