Joanna Shields Leaves AOL A Startup Hero

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When an executive leaves a company under the pretense of spending more time with their family — as former Bebo CEO and People Networks president Joanna Shields left AOL yesterday — everybody knows that executive was canned by the higher-ups.

And lots of times, when you hear someone was fired, you assume that person was a failure at their job.

But let’s be clear: As CEO of Bebo, Joanna Shields was anything but a failure. In fact, she’s a straight-up startup hero.

Before the gossipy narrative around Joanna’s departure cements into historical facts, let’s take a moment to remember a few things about Joanna’s stay at Bebo and AOL.

  • She left Google in January 2007 to join what was then unapologetic MySpace/Facebook copycat, Bebo.
  • Her mission: find a buyer. She’d done it before, selling the last company she ran, statup Veon, to Phillips Electronics in 2001, but now she needed to find someone to buy a site used only by British tween girls.
  • During her time there, Joanna re-positioned Bebo as a social content portal, instead of a social network, making it more attractive to an old media buyer.
  • Meanwhile, Bebo’s userbase doubled in size.
  • The strategy worked, and Joanna sold the site to Time Warner’s (TWX) online subsidiary AOL for $850 million in cash. Bebo’s founders Michael and Xochi Birch — the people who hired Joanna to do a job — walk away with something close to $595 million from the deal.
  • Joanna joined AOL with the acquisition and, a year later, got the hell out.

If you’re a VC or startup founder looking for an exit, what’s not to like?

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