Pals Ride A New Dot-com Wave

Childhood chums Eric Marcoullier and Todd Sampson founded MyBlogLog, sold it to Yahoo for millions

March 08, 2007|By Chris Cobbs | Chris Cobbs,The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Except for an interest in video games, they seemed so different.

One was a skateboarder with a 12-foot halfpipe in his backyard, a guitarist in a rock group and the owner of a nickname - Kid Ego - that belied his shyness.

The other was a DJ who disliked professional radio, a student who hated high school and college and who met his future wife in a computer lab.

But Todd Sampson and Eric Marcoullier always had a special bond. Friends since fifth grade in Merritt Island, Fla., they eventually found their niche in the dot-com world as co-founders of MyBlogLog, an Orlando-based Web site that they sold Jan. 8 for a reported $10 million to Internet giant Yahoo.

Yahoo hired them, along with three colleagues, to continue developing MyBlogLog, which keeps a count of visitors to a blog site and also makes it easier for readers of a blog to connect with one another.

Since the deal with Yahoo, life has been hectic for Sampson and Marcoullier, who have moved to Silicon Valley - where memories of the dot-com bust have long since faded, and where the 20- and 30-somethings once again believe in the High-Tech Dream.

Sampson and Marcoullier, both 34, are now in a Yahoo branch office in Berkeley, Calif., with the freedom to take pets to work and access to free snacks and sodas.

"Selling to Yahoo was the ultimate outcome for us," said Marcoullier, who met Sampson in the gifted program in elementary school in Brevard County, Fla., where both their dads worked for the U.S. space program.

"It's just the coolest place to work with our personalities," Marcoullier said of Yahoo. "Google would be great if you have a Ph.D. in computer science, but Yahoo is more of a place to have fun."

It's a long way, Sampson said, from Merritt Island to Silicon Valley. "I couldn't believe it was real until I dipped my toes in the Pacific for the first time," he said.

But the guys have made the transition without any problems, according to their boss at Yahoo. "Todd and Eric are made for Silicon Valley," said Chad Dickerson, senior director of the Yahoo Director Network. "They're entrepreneurs and risk-takers. They have a great future."

Sampson and Marcoullier both have young children. Marcoullier and his wife, Jennifer, bought a house in San Francisco. Sampson and his wife, Elisabeth, have put in a bid for a house.

Chief Financial Officer Scott Rafer, 38, was already based in San Francisco. Senior engineer Steve Ho, 31, has transferred to the Bay Area and will be joined next month by Todd Sampson's brother John, a 29-year-old senior engineer.

The MyBlogLog team members, who began developing the site in 2005, are now at work enhancing the product, Dickerson said. The product's appeal for Yahoo lies in its ability to tap into the Internet's burgeoning social-networking scene.

"It turns each blog site into a community," Dickerson said. "It's a great product already and, with Yahoo's vast reach, we can make it bigger and better."

To add to its global audience, Yahoo has been buying up Web properties such as MyBlogLog and the photo-sharing service Flickr, noted Josh Hallett, a Winter Haven, Fla.-based blogging consultant.

"They have to figure out how to tie it all together," he said. "Some of the features of MyBlogLog may change a little. It's a great tool for knowing who your readers are in a very personal way."

Before hooking up with the major online-information portal, the MyBlogLog team had been actively looking for outside capital to fund its company's growth.

The deal with Yahoo happened quickly.

Rafer had been negotiating with several venture-capital companies before connecting with Yahoo officials in November and December.

"We were close to taking a deal for seven figures from a VC [venture capital] firm when Scott heard from Yahoo," Marcoullier said. "He met with some Yahoo senior people who said they were excited and wanted to know more about us."

Sampson and Marcoullier, who would neither confirm nor deny the $10 million sale price, credited Rafer with a key role.

"He's the business guy and the big-picture guy," Sampson said.

Rafer, who joined the company last year, was a newcomer to the Sampson-Marcoullier partnership, which traced its beginnings back to grade school. Their first joint effort was founding a video-game users club when they were 12 years old in seventh grade.

Marcoullier watched enviously as his pal took up skateboarding and later began playing in a band.

"I like to hang around people I'm in awe of," said Marcoullier, who lacked musical skills but produced album art for the band's CD.

Sampson was nicknamed Kid Ego, something of a joke given his shyness.

"I met my wife at a sound check for a concert," Sampson said. "We really hit it off. But I was so shy, she later had to track me down through three friends."

Sampson, who later graduated from the University of Central Florida, wasn't in close touch with his friend for a few years.

"I went to Tulane, then later to Florida," Marcoullier said. "I had about six majors, never went to class and had appalling grades."

Moving to the Northeast, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, then went cross-country to work for a video-game Web site.

Eventually, the friends hooked up again when Marcoullier became a consultant for a Web-development company started by Sampson in Orlando. In early 2005, they began brainstorming on the project that grew into their multimillion-dollar baby, MyBlogLog.

With their Silicon Valley mentality, the future should be promising for Sampson, Marcoullier and the others, said Yahoo's Dickerson.

"People here are passionate about building the next big thing," he said.

Chris Cobbs writes for The Orlando Sentinel.

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