David Karp, the quirky weirdo who built—and sold—the blogging service Tumblr, is rich. But is he actually good at what he does? And what does he do, anyway, besides fly remote-controlled helicopters around?
Yahoo! saved Tumblr from certain death or ignoble decline, a company that was killing itself because it didn't care about making money. Months later, Tumblr's dropout prince seems more interested in flying drones and looking at GIFs than being a CEO.
In a rare interesting profile of Karp, New York magazine's Molly Young paints Tumblr's chief as we've already known him: ambitious, aloof, and only superficially concerned with revenue. This was fine years ago—but after offloading his creation to Yahoo! for over a billion dollars and ostensibly being accountable to a legion of antsy shareholders, his indifference to capital isn't so cute.
Karp still has his youthful goofiness: his propensity for flying small drones around his duplex apartment in Williamsburg's gaudy Edge condominium complex, or the description of his morning ritual as an “Über-breakfast." But quirk won't push stock prices. Once the conversation switches to, you know, his job of running Tumblr, Karp doesn't seem half as interested as he is in operating remote aerial vehicles:
Among the topics that bore him are cars (“I don’t like cars anymore”); Internet comments (“Gross”); his company’s colossally expensive infrastructure (“I have a very rudimentary understanding of how Tumblr actually works these days”); and management (“I’m not super-passionate about how we run the company”).
When asked when he expects Tumblr to be profitable, the CEO hat comes off. He doesn’t know, Karp said recently at his office; profitability “has never been a particularly important milestone” to him. “My philosophy toward that has always been, like, the guy on the corner selling fruit is running a profitable business. There are many profitable businesses out there. There are only so many very large networks.”
Profitability is for fruit stands, not GIF networks of biblical importance. Fuck that fruit guy, with his chump revenue and sensible plans. Who needs it, insulated from the imperative to grow up with a cellular wall of money. Unfortunately, his web baby has grown up into a chic ad platform, not an artists' commune. And unfortunately, everyone else at Yahoo! has to operate in a world in which they haven't already cashed out for $200 million, like David Karp, don't live in an apartment with its own New York Times profile, and must worry about the future, not just GIF it.