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Bebo founder buys back US$850m social network for US$1m

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 3:23am

The internet entrepreneur who sold the social networking site Bebo to AOL for US$850 million five years ago has bought it back - for a mere US$1 million.

Michael Birch, who co-founded the site with his wife, Xochi, in 2005, tweeted "We just bought back Bebo for US$1m. Can we actually re-invent it? Who knows, but will be fun trying."

Once the darling of teenagers in Britain, Bebo reached a peak of 40 million monthly users in 2008 when it was bought by AOL in a deal widely regarded even at the time as overpriced.

By 2010 a lack of strategic leadership on the part of AOL, and the rapid growth of Facebook, had crippled Bebo. AOL effectively abandoned the site, though users could still access their profiles.

The investment consortium Criterion Capital Partners bought Bebo's assets for between US$2.5 million and US$10 million in June 2010, later bringing Birch on board as a strategic adviser.

Birch is now the sole owner after beating two rival bids in a post-bankruptcy auction. A team at Birch's San Francisco-based business Monkey Inferno are now working on redesigning the site.

"We're excited about the ambitious challenge of bringing Bebo back," said Shaan Puri, chief executive of Monkey Inferno. "Bebo users deserve better than what they have received in the past few years."

Birch faces a significant battle to differentiate Bebo from Facebook, which allows users to join from the age of 13. While former rival MySpace has recently attempted a slick redesign , teens have also shifted towards apps including Snapchat, which lets users share pictures that self-destruct, and sharing tools such as Vine and Instagram.

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