Q&A

Charlie Rose Talks to Tumblr's David Karp


“Marissa showed up in New York and started to walk me through a story of how we could do even more together”

Photograph by Brad Barket/AP Photo

“Marissa showed up in New York and started to walk me through a story of how we could do even more together”

What made you decide that this was the right time to sell—and that Yahoo! (YHOO) was the right buyer?
I was not expecting to sell the company this year, certainly wasn’t looking to sell the company. This was a really, really remarkable opportunity to shortcut a lot of the very hard things that we’re about to be going through and a chance to join a company that has a history, a legacy, and a huge amount of resources.
 
How did Marissa Mayer present it to you?
She’s a visionary in this industry. She’s one of the most capable leaders. We started conversations about working with Yahoo in November of last year. After a few months, we knew that we were going to be working together. That’s when Marissa showed up in New York and started to walk me through a story of how we could do even more together.
 
You had the confidence to say, “I want to do this, and I want it now” at a very early age.
I have a hard time taking too much credit for it. I had a lot of just dumb luck and incredibly enabling parents. If it was an instrument I wanted to learn, my dad would get me lessons; if it was robots, he’d take the train up to Boston and we’d go see the MIT robot competitions. I remember very vividly the summer I turned 11 and I found AOL (AOL) … this whole world online. And I really wanted to figure out how to make it work. And as soon as my dad got the sense that I was curious, he showed up with a stack of books this tall of every Web development language he could find.
 
What was the glimmer ofan idea that led to Tumblr?
There was something I wanted. There was a tool that I wanted to use that didn’t exist. And I found myself increasingly frustrated with the direction that the technology was going, which was less and less creative. It was more and more about these restrictive tools, where you put your photos in this directory, you put your articles over here. And I wanted something where I could be free, where I could do anything.
 
Is that what separates Tumblr—this capacity to be creative?
Hopefully it’s an increasingly large, flexible, creative canvas for some of the most creative people in the world. That’s our mission: Every day find new ways to stretch that canvas and give people more room to make their best work. Just think about the role technology has played in enabling creative people and pushing art and media forward. Look at what technology’s done for film with something like Pixar (DIS), right?
 
How will Tumblr be monetized?
In the short term it’s going to be advertising, because we have such a big audience. It’s made up of 105 million blogs that people spend 24 billion minutes a month enjoying. The advertisements fit into spots where we already promote content.
 
The adult content issue keeps coming up. How do you deal with that?
The stuff that bothers us, we’ve done a pretty good job of actually defining policies around that. There’s some automated flagging. There’s some machine learning, there’s some human moderation, there’s some community-driven moderation. It’s something we’ve taken incredibly seriously.

Watch Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV weeknights at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Charlie Rose is the host of Charlie Rose, the nightly PBS program.

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