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Bebo sold back to its founder for US$1 million - five years after AOL paid $850 million for it!

AOL and Bebo is a case study in dot com madness. Bebo was new and popular but had no real business plan. AOL was awash with cash but was not necessarily the full shilling where pecuniary rationality was concerned.

But it was desperate for a place at the social networking table, where, apparently, fortunes were to be made by virtue of just sitting there and watching money roll-in from nowhere. So, AOL spent getting on for a billion bucks (when lawyers fees etc. are taken into account) to buy a seat and lived to regret it. Yesterday the founder and original owner bought the company back for $1 million - just for the hell of it.

They say what goes around comes around - but this one is a gasser. Michael Birch and his wife Xochi set up Bebo whilst studying at Imperial College in London. The couple made $595 million when AOL bought the company and went off to enjoy their good fortune.

Bebo was an early social networking phenomenon and at one time boasted 40 million active, regular users. However, while it burned brightly it also burned briefly and began to fade as MySpace (now also a shadow of its former self) and Facebook began to innovate and scoop-up fickle and/or bored Bebo users.

It was guttering in a chill wind when AOL first started sniffing around but such was the Internet hysteria at the time that AOL was determined to have Bebo, more or less at whatever the cost, and went ahead and paid stupid money for the acquisition. The markets gulped as they tried to swallow the unpalatable realiity (the deal was widely criticised at the time for being utterly over the top) and analysts looked on in bemusement but hoped for the best.

They got the worst. Within weeks of AOL buying Bebo the stock market tanked and Bebo lost out to trendier competitors.The uber-expensive deal was pursued remorselessly by AOL's then CEO Randy Falco. He paid the price for his irrational exuberance followed by failure and was booted out of the company within a few months. At the time it was said that "there's no fool like an AOL fool".

Falco-free, AOL did what they could with a rapidly deteriorating asset but in 2010 threw in the towel and sold Bebo on Criterion Capital Partners (CCP) for less than $10 million.

Bebo's founder Michael Birch was persuaded to return to try to help save his brainchild and it was expensively relaunched in 2011 - but to little avail. Bebo soon fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and after floundering around in the dolrums ever since was yesterday sold back to its original owner for just 0.017 per cent of the price it achieved when AOL bought it.

Let's face it, Bebo stands but a slight chance of a second coming given the state of the market and the immense size and power of its huge rivals, but then a million dollars is pin money to Michael Birch who tweeted, "We just bought back Bebo for $1m. Can we actually re-invent it? Who knows, but will be fun trying …"

Yes, kids, 'Blog early, blog often" is the mantra. Chant it loud, chant it long. Or perhaps they won't bother. What do you think?

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