How quickly things change! I’ve been praising Tumblr over the last several months because it has been an excellent tool to build The Watercolor Gallery with. And it still is, except since I began building The Watercolor Gallery Tumblr has been, well, tumbling down in the minds and hearts of some of their core users.
I even called Zach Inglis out for his tirade against the Tumblr team. Now I’m thinking, perhaps, he was completely justified. Or, maybe, I spoke too soon. However, I also believe that the Tumblr team (or perhaps just the investors) and its core users want two very different things for Tumblr.
One of Tumblr’s main investors and mentors has been Union Square Ventures. USV is an incredibly adept team of venture capitalists who, for the most part, have made some excellent bets over the years and whose opinions I respect. Put simply, guys like Fred Wilson “get it” without even breaking a sweat. Well, at least he makes it look easy. That being said USV obviously cares very much about the success of Tumblr – I just believe it is a different type of success then what the core users want. Investors, by and large, want to see growth and eventually profitability while core users want stability and for things to work better and better over time for them.
In early 2010 USV reupped their bet on Tumblr by “doubling down” on them. They’ve put a cool $10m into Tumblr alone. Wilson, in his post in April 2010 about how Tumblr had gotten to 1bn pageviews per month, wrote a very short reason why they’ve made that bet.
“There are some lessons here. First, make your software super easy to use. Second, you don’t need hundreds of employees to build a big time web service. You can keep it lean and scale if you have the right team. That’s how Tumblr got to a billion page views and we just made a bet that they will be able to take that number a lot higher.“
Emphasis mine. USV thinks that Tumblr can increase the number of pageviews from 1bn per month to, well, a lot more. And they think that will help their investment. They don’t care, too much, about how the service gets there just that they increase that number dramatically and – I can only assume – get a much larger round of financing or exit.
I’m not saying that USV doesn’t care if Tumblr gets their downtime in check. You can’t serve 1bn pageviews per month if you’re down. I think USV cares very much about the stability of the Tumblr platform – I just think they are focused on the wrong thing which could end up trickling down to the Tumblr team. If the Tumblr team is focused on metrics they will end up losing what made Tumblr’s team so great to begin with – the passion for making something great, simple, and different from everything else out there.
I could be dead wrong. Perhaps the team at Tumblr is focused on exactly that and that the dreams of the investors don’t trickle down too far. I hope USV (and the rest of the investors in Tumblr) understand very well how to stay out of the hair of the core team so that they can continue to do what they are great at. But there must be some reason by Marco Arment (one of the 2-man-team that made Tumblr great to begin with) left to do his own thing and continuously touts that he doesn’t want to take investment for Instapaper. Is he jaded? Has the Tumblr team “sold out”? We’ll see.
Oh, and I’m not picking on Fred Wilson either. I would point to other Tumblr investors that have commented about the growth of Tumblr, like Bijan Sabet, but he powers his blog with Tumblr which means his search simply doesn’t work. Maybe he’s hoping that the millions of dollars that his company Spark Capital has invested in Tumblr will fix that?
Again, I hope I’m wrong and I want Tumblr to succeed. I love the service and would pay money to keep it up and stable. Lets hope someday they give all of us the opportunity to do just that.