As Yahoo and Tumblr remembered the nineties by negotiating their deal in the press, almost every acquisition report quoted the same figure, first reported by Forbes in January: Tumblr made $13 million in revenue in 2012, with the "hope" that it would get to $100 million in 2013. But a source familiar with the company told Valleywag that Tumblr's actual revenue (not bookings) in 2012 was less than $5 million.
"Even after bringing in an experienced sales VP, Tumblr's revenues have come in below the board's already-meager expectations," said the source. "And in 2013, the sales team has continued to significantly under-deliver, from a board perspective." Another source confirmed to Valleywag that the $13 million figure was not accurate.
We reached out to Tumblr and will update the post as soon as we hear back. But less than reported revenue is significant considering that even back in January the news that an six-year-old company was only able to cobble together $13 million on 18 billion page views per month (!) felt like a gut check about the startup world's optimistic approach toward monetizing later.
It looks as though Tumblr's 2013 forecast is also underperforming. On Friday, Business Insider noted that "Tumblr's Q1 revenues were behind plan." Meanwhile, Referly CEO Danielle Morill also reported that "actual Q1 revenue growth was flat and Tumblr is on track to do only $15M in revenue this year."
The source who quoted the less than $5 million revenue figure placed the blame for that on Karp's resistance to products that would open up more revenue streams, telling Valleywag:
Instead, he insisted on limiting monetization to a low-performing dashboard ad unit open only to Karp-approved brands.
Perhaps fears that Tumblr's advertising efforts were too little, too late were what derailed the company's last stab attempt at independence. Just last month, Business Insider reported that Tumblr was seeking another "big round of funding":
We're told by one of our sources — a source close to Tumblr — that Tumblr doesn't need to raise more money, but that it has gotten so much inbound interest from firms asking "what would it take," that it finally decided to come up with an answer.
That turned out not to the case, with TechCrunch noting this weekend that the company "has a few months of cash runway left." [Update: We heard the company actually told employees it had runway to last through December—so longer than a "few months."] But as of three weeks ago Karp and board member Roelof Botha were still talking about raising funds, so what happened to that Series F?
A source familiar with Tumblr told Valleywag that the company's board tested the waters, but couldn't find any takers at a good valuation, which from the perspective of Tumblr's later-stage VCs was about $1.5 billion.
The board shifted in acquisition mode after Series F negotiations faltered, "sending David Karp out to Silicon Valley to drum up interest among Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Microsoft," said the source. Their objective at that point was an exit of $1.2 billion or more.
As AllThingsD, which broke both the news of the impending acquisition and Yahoo's approval, reported yesterday, "There were no other competing bids, despite reports, to snap up the New York-based social blogging service."
Even still, some are still fixated on the $2 billion to $3 billion Tumblr could have had. Another source familiar with the company told Valleywag:
Honestly I don't know why they'd take it, except David probably wanted it. He was in plenty of control of the board. Had three seats, and USV and Spark were up a bajillion X. They were probably content with their return. Even if Sequoia and Greylock were against it, it'd be 5-2.
The path to keep the company independent would probably involve finding a replacement CEO, or at the very least hiring a COO to be Tumblr’s own version of Sheryl Sandberg and drive the company aggressively toward revenue. It would also mean raising a boatload more cash at significant dilution to everyone involved, cutting expenses, and buckling down to operate like a serious business generating meaningful ad sales revenues in the next 18 months.