A key Tumblr employee is out of the company.
Derek Gottfrid, who joined from the New York Times in 2010, is leaving, according to a memo David Karp sent to the staff.
The memo makes it sound like Karp fired Gottfrid.
“I’ve made the decision that it’s time for Derek to move on from Tumblr,” says Karp in the memo. “Derek’s contributions are immeasurable and I am tremendously grateful for everything he has done for me, the team, and our users.”
(Interestingly, when Marissa Mayer, CEO of Tumblr’s parent company, Yahoo, fired her COO Henrique De Castro, she wrote something similar: “I made the difficult decision that our COO, Henrique de Castro, should leave the company.”)
We’re not sure what happened. We’ve heard Gottfrid was ready to move on since his stock had vested following the Yahoo acquisition. We’ve also heard that Tumblr was a less “cool” place to work and perhaps Gottfrid was getting some blame for that.
Regardless, this is a blow for Tumblr. Gottfrid was almost a “shadow CEO” according to people close to the company. When he joined Tumblr it was still a messy company, but he stepped in and helped organise it.
He kept taking on new responsibilities, and eventually he was leading things on a day-to-day basis. He led product, then engineering, then he got Tumblr into the ad business, and he was a key part of the Yahoo deal.
In many ways, he was Tumblr’s Sheryl Sandberg, but without the big name or profile.
Our understanding, based on conversations with people familiar with the company, is that Karp had an idea to monetise Tumblr with pinned posts. That didn’t work. So, Gottfrid came up with the idea for ads. He pitched it to the board, and the board liked it.
Basically, Karp is a great, talented product visionary. But he is not a sharp businessman. Gottfrid was the businessman.
In 2012, when Tumblr was thinking about its next 12 months, the company decided to start raising money. Gottfrid suggested the company approach strategic investors like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo. Those conversations led to Tumblr selling to Yahoo for $US1.1 billion.
Here is the email from Karp:
I’ve made the decision that it’s time for Derek to move on from Tumblr.
Derek’s contributions are immeasurable and I am tremendously grateful for everything he has done for me, the team, and our users.
With this change, I will be taking a more active role in managing Derek’s teams. Derek leaves big shoes to fill and I’m excited to see you all step in as we move forward. I’ll be following up with his teams over the next couple days to answer any questions, address any concerns, and go over changes in reporting.
Thank you all for all your efforts and patience during this transition. I’ve truly never been more excited for Tumblr’s future.