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When Yahoo bought this website it asked the founder to stay on. Now he’s a CEO – AND a billionaire — at age 27. Not bad for a high school dropout.

With Yahoo’s recent acquisition of Tumblr, a lot of people are asking: just what is Tumblr?

Tumblr is a microblogging platform. Whereas Twitter is infamous for its 140 character limit, Tumblr doesn’t actually have a limit as such, but it’s built to encourage quick, image-centric posts. It’s also easy to reblog posts to your own Tumblr blog and follow other users. It’s a social network, at its heart.

The service is especially popular with younger people, which makes sense: it’s founder was only 20 years old when Tumblr started, seven years ago.

As a boy, David Karp was enthralled by computers. He hated school and spent all his free time glued to the computer. At the age of fifteen, Karp dropped out of high school and began focusing all his energy on computers.

Even without a high school degree, there was plenty of work for a brilliant programmer like Karp. He worked several jobs and eventually started his own consulting firm called Davidville.

It was during a two week lull between contracts at Davidville that he created Tumblr. Karp had long been interested in “tumblelogs” — short-form blogs for people like Karp, who don’t like writing all that much, but still want to share thoughts, quotes, and pictures easily.

Tumblr Founder David Karp

Tumblr Founder David Karp

Karp had been waiting for one of the big-name blogging platforms to create tools to make tumblelogging easy. But it didn’t happen. Programs like WordPress and Blogger were big powerful platforms. Too powerful. Just setting up a blog could be a massive headache, hardly conducive to self-expression. So Karp teamed up with programmer Marco Arment and built a web app that made it simple to create and populate a beautiful micro-blog filled with images, video, text, and hyperlinks.

Karp showed the web application to one of his investors. The investor was blown away and insisted Karp turn it into a business.

But Karp wasn’t interested. He’d started Tumblr to make self-expression easier. Running a tech startup was not the sort of self-expression he’d had in mind. But the investor worked away at Karp, going so far as securing nearly a million dollars in funding for the venture. After nearly a year, Karp acquiesced, and Tumblr went live in 2007.

The service was a huge success. Here’s how it works:

Users sign up for a Tumblr account, they pick or design a theme for their blog, and are up and running in a matter of minutes. Users can easily share images, videos, and text, or reblog others’ posts on their own Tumblr page.

In some ways it’s a lot like Facebook and Twitter. But Tumblr gives you full control over the look and feel of your blog, staying true to Karp’s original vision of making self-expression easy, quick, and beautiful.

Within 5 years, more than 5 billion posts had been made on Tumblr blogs.

Tumblr’s user-base skews young. And they’re an active bunch. The average Tumblr post is shared nine times, according to the company. It’s no wonder big name companies started using the service to promote their products and brands. Some people have even turned their Tumblr blogs into successful books and television shows.

In 2013, the White House launched its own Tumblr.

Then, in May 2013, internet search provider Yahoo! announced it was acquiring Tumblr for $1.1 billion in cash. Yahoo! plans to keep Tumblr as an autonomous product, with Karp staying on as CEO of his company. It has also announced plans to eventually integrate Tumblr content into its homepage.

David Karp exemplifies two of the twelve axioms featured on our website:  Think Around Your Frustration, and Think Niche Within Niche.

A computer programmer wanted an easier, prettier way to blog. So he invented one. Tumblr.

Now Why Didn’t I Think of That?

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