“We had 500,000 people using it very quickly, but didn’t feel we were getting the traction we needed.
There is still a Bebo app in the app store but we’ve effectively parked it.” What is taking off, though, is Blab, a live streaming platform that enables public video chat.
His first idea was a self-updating address book, something which was great in theory, but failed to take off.
He also started a babysitting network, which also failed, as it was very difficult to overcome the mistrust and concerns of parents.
“It’s suicide to try and be a better Facebook, ” Michael Birch says. Along with his wife Xochi, he co-founded social networking site Bebo in 2005.
Sitting in the trendy surroundings of Monkey Inferno, his latest venture in San Francisco, he smiles at the fact Bebo outdid both Facebook and Google in Britain and Ireland, albeit for a short while only.
The platform has high retention rates with the average user spending 64 minutes a day watching livestreams.
“It’s an online chat show that anyone can create, and where viewers can partake, either by joining the video chat or commenting on the side of the live stream.” The next step will be to monetise the site, a necessary step, though that’s not a word Birch likes.
Following Bebo’s bankruptcy, they thought about buying the site back, mainly for reasons of nostalgia and sentimentality. Then dating site came along and an auction followed. But how did Bebo, the site that gave most Irish people their first introduction to social media, come about? He had left his job in Zurich Insurance Group to pursue start-up life, mainly because his father was an entrepreneur.
Facebook ultimately won the social networking battle, and the couple decided to sell Bebo.
“We could see chitchat about Facebook on Bebo and noticed a shift happening. They couldn’t afford Facebook as it had gotten so big. ’ I would have rather gone on and been really successful with it. It was the right thing to do, though, especially because the Lehman Brothers collapse happened two months after we closed the deal.” Michael and Xochi began looking for other projects following the sale, and bought a building in San Francisco in 2009 to convert into a private members’ club.
“If you work in insurance, there’s great motivation to leave.
My father was an entrepreneur so I got the entrepreneur bug off him,” he says.