Liz Gannes

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Divvyshot’s Sam Odio Explains Why He Left Facebook to Found Freshplum (Video)

Sam Odio, who joined Facebook a little more than a year ago when his small photo-sharing start-up Divvyshot was acquired, is now onto his next company: A price-optimization system for e-commerce called Freshplum.

We reported on Odio’s departure last week, and he agreed to explain this quick switch after he officially left Facebook on Friday.

Freshplum is part of the current class of Y Combinator, the start-up accelerator program where Divvyshot was incubated in 2009, Odio said.

Why leave Facebook now? Odio was product manager for Facebook Photos, which is thought to be the largest online photo-sharing service in the world. It wasn’t a bad gig.

Odio said he’d been brainstorming the idea for Freshplum with co-founder Nick Alexander, who was accepted to Harvard Business School for the fall. When the opportunity emerged to join Y Combinator just before the latest session started a few weeks ago, Odio and Alexander felt like it was now or never to work together on their idea, so Odio left Facebook and Alexander decided not to go to business school.

Plus, Y Combinator came with $150,000 in immediate funding offered to all participating companies by Yuri Milner and the Start Fund, so it wasn’t that much of a leap.

Odio certainly gave up earn-out opportunities by leaving Facebook earlier than he might have planned, but he says he’s OK with the decision because he’s a start-up guy at heart.

Price optimization seems a far cry from photo sharing, but Odio said he studied economics at the University of Virginia and his first start-up was a currency exchange site called OdioWorks that he used to pay for college and fund Divvyshot.

Alexander, meanwhile, had helped manage OdioWorks, in addition to founding a previous Y Combinator company (a failed coupon site) and working as an engineer at Cisco and Divvyshot. Odio and Alexander had previously lived together when they were both pinching pennies to try to make their last Y Combinator start-ups work.

Why are Odio and Alexander doing Y Combinator again? The Mountain View, Calif.-based program is a bit different these days; the current class has 60 companies versus 14 in Divvyshot’s cohort two years ago. But the Y Combinator brand, the easy funding, the network of people associated and the pressure to build something in three months make the program worth doing again, Odio said.

Odio wouldn’t comment about Facebook’s plans for its photo products after his exit, though it’s quite obvious Facebook is working on a mobile photos offering that will include features like group and event photo sharing, which were Divvyshot specialties.

Odio maintained he was very happy with his experience at Facebook, pointing to the responsibility he was given over Facebook photos and the many features he was able to ship in just a year. “If I were to sell again as a talent acquisition I would definitely sell to Facebook,” he said. However, he said he intends Freshplum to be a different sort of company.

In the weeks just prior to its acquisition in April 2010, Divvyshot had raised angel funding from investors including Jim Young, Richard Chen and Gabor Cselle, who got a quick and small return on their investment. Odio said he hopes to raise money from those same folks, as well as others, now that he’s building something for the long term.

A version of Freshplum should be out in the next couple of months, Odio said. It will provide an API that allows, for instance, the maker of a Mac desktop client for Twitter to dynamically figure out what price to charge its customers.

Odio said he looks forward to charging his own customers for something they want to pay for, versus the constant worry of where the next dollar would come from at a photo-sharing Web site.

In fact, he recalled — despite that angel funding coming together at the last minute — Divvyshot was on the verge of running out of money when Facebook’s Blake Ross called to express interest in an acquisition. The day the Divvyshot guys drove to Palo Alto to sign the acquisition papers, they ran out of gas and had trouble buying more because their business credit card was maxed out.

This time around, Odio said, things will be different.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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