Wednesday 21 March 2018

Bebo founder urges grads to quit day job

Nicola Anderson

FORGET the cushy 'City' job and the pinstripe suit -- the future for new graduates is in small start-up firms, the creator of social networking site Bebo has advised students. And he should know.

Michael Birch (40) may almost be in the league of billionaires now but he lived on practically nothing for three years after quitting a job in insurance which he hated. He kept going because he felt success was just around the corner.

"I ended up waiting for the internet to come along," he told students of the Philosophical Society at Trinity College.

In jeans and a lilac shirt just verging on the right side of zany, Birch's accent may be London academic but his attitude was pure laid-back Californian cool, as he lolloped down the steps to receive a medal of Honourary Patronage of "the Phil" at a ceremony in the university's Science Gallery, before a packed-out audience of budding entrepreneurs. "I've never had a medal before," he said, examining it.

"I'm never really that brave."

Birch sold Bebo to AOL in 2008 for $850m (€690m) only for Facebook to take over in the popularity stakes. AOL subsequently sold it on again for a tiny fraction of what they paid for it, at less than $10m.

"How many people here were Bebo members?" Birch asked the Trinity students, as most of them put up their hands. "How many are members now?" he continued, as just a tiny smattering indicated that they were.

Having started out as a physics graduate, Birch fell into insurance and then into web technology, with three failed businesses under his belt before he struck on the idea for Bebo.

At its peak, it had 45 million users worldwide.

And the next big thing? Birch paused, pondering the question. He believes social networking will "be around forever". He never thought Twitter would become as popular as it did. "I'm always amazed because you think everything has been invented but then every year you see another huge start-up," he said.

To budding entrepreneurs straight out of college, Birch's advice is simply "just go do it". The good thing about being straight out of college, he said, is that you aren't used to having money, you have no dependents and can still live with your parents.

He urged graduates to resist the cushy job in "the City" where they get the short-term gain.

Irish Independent

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