Kara Swisher

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Yahoo Tumblrs for Cool: Board Approves $1.1 Billion Deal as Expected

marissa_mayer_david_karp

The Yahoo board has approved a massive $1.1 billion all-cash deal to buy Tumblr.

It’s not clear when the official vote was taken, but sources close to the board said the acquisition was a foregone conclusion and was unanimously approved by the directors of Silicon Valley Internet giant.

The deal will likely be announced Monday morning, said numerous sources.

AllThingsD.com initially broke the story of the acquisition efforts and later followed up with details of the exact price and the board meeting to approve the transaction.

There were no other competing bids, despite reports, to snap up the New York-based social blogging service. That said, Tumblr had held some very preliminary discussions about various deals with Facebook, Google, Microsoft and also Twitter earlier this year.

As part of the Yahoo deal, Tumblr CEO David Karp — who will get a windfall of cash from the acquisition — will stay at Yahoo for four years at least and retain a lot of control over the service, much in the same way Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom does at Facebook. But, as there, Yahoo will undergird Tumblr’s nascent advertising business with its large and established infrastructure, said sources.

Yahoo had been mulling some kind of deal with Tumblr, from a strategic investment to an outright acquisition, for about six weeks. Sources said that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer had decided that buying the company was going to be “the stake in the ground of what her strategy is going forward for Yahoo.”

And that is to attract younger audiences with just the kind of user-generated content Tumblr has pioneered to impressive growth.

According to numerous sources, Mayer determined quickly in her research that the site was just the kind of property that Yahoo needed to make it both “cool” and relevant to new consumers.

Yahoo is looking to bolster its strong set of existing media offerings to appeal to a different demographic and also get into the social space via consumer-based software solutions that are both elegant and easy to use.

Tumblr’s mobile usage has also been strong, which also interested Mayer. While Tumblr started as a desktop-based service, its mobile offering has ramped up quickly in the last few years. ComScore says that a quarter of the service’s U.S. visitors now come from mobile devices.

At this price, it will be Mayer’s biggest acquisition so far. Since she became CEO last summer, Mayer has made only a series of small acquisitions of mobile startups at a low cost.

According to sources, the Tumblr brand will continue.

The deal, if consummated, will be a big win for investors. In a series of fundings since 2007, Tumblr has raised $125 million so far and is now at a reported valuation of $800 million. Investors include Spark Capital, Union Square Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, Insight Venture Partners and the Chernin Group.

While Tumblr’s Karp has resisted various offers for the company over the years, Mayer spent a lot of time with him reassuring him that Yahoo could turbocharge his business. He has also been searching for a COO to help him build out the infrastructure of its business, especially its advertising one.

And as Peter Kafka and I previously wrote, Tumblr could certainly bring Yahoo a big, young audience. Its worldwide traffic was at 117 million visitors in April, according to comScore. On its home page, Tumblr claims it has 107.8 million blogs and 50.6 billion posts. U.S. desktop traffic to Tumblr was 37 million in April, close to LinkedIn and Twitter, although Twitter obviously has much more via mobile.

But figuring out how to make money from that is a task that the company has only recently started to tackle.

Like other recent Web startups that have seen rocketship growth — see: Twitter, Facebook — Tumblr resisted advertising for its formative years, and its user base seems particularly unwilling to accept standard banner ads. In addition, many industry observers think that Tumblr’s pages are packed with porn or other questionable content that would scare off advertisers.

But within the last year or so, Tumblr has started selling modestly sized “native ads” promoting brands’ Tumblr pages, on users’ “dashboards,” which has shown promise. Tumblr has said it had $13 million in revenue last year and sources said it could get up to $100 million this year.

Tumblr has been represented by Qatalyst Partners’ Frank Quattrone, while Yahoo’s Mayer, as well as M&A head Jackie Reses and CFO Ken Goldman, have been on the company’s side.

Interestingly, what got me first focused on Tumblr last week were Goldman’s comments at JP Morgan’s Global Technology conference last week, where he underscored the need for the aging Yahoo to attract more users from the coveted 18-to-24-years-old age bracket. Along with more marketing, he explicitly said Yahoo needed to be “cool again.”

“One of our challenges is we have had an aging demographic,” said Goldman at the Boston event. “Part of it is going to be just visibility again in making ourselves cool, which we got away from for a couple of years.”

Tumblr, apparently, fits the very expensive bill.


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