Movers and Shakers

Betaworks’ New Entrepreneur-in-Residence Andrew McLaughlin Reminisces About His Time at Tumblr

Drama free!
 Betaworks New Entrepreneur in Residence Andrew McLaughlin Reminisces About His Time at Tumblr

Mr. McLaughlin

On his blog this afternoon, Andrew McLaughlin, vice president of Tumblr, revealed that he would be leaving the micro-blogging platform after just nine months to join Betaworks, an early Tumblr investor, as an entrepreneur-in-residence. Investment firms often tap employees at portfolio companies for that role. Recently, for example, Andreessen Horowitz poached Foursquare vice president Tristan Walker for an EIR position out in Silicon Valley, although Mr. Walker had clocked almost three years at Foursquare at that point.

In an interview with Betabeat, Mr. McLaughlin assured us that the move was “on friendly terms.” 

“No great drama to it!” Mr. McLaughlin explained, “Betaworks is a thing I’ve been fascinated with for a long time, and I got the opportunity to go dive in and work with John Borthwick.” Mr. McLaughlin and the Betaworks CEO have been friends for a number of years. “Excited to have Andrew @betaworks,” Mr. Borthwick added by email, calling Mr. McLaughlin, “Super smart, thoughtful and a passionate believer in entrepreneurs.”

Mr. McLaughlin joined Tumblr after its massive $85 million series E round last fall, which valued the company at an eye-popping $800 million. “Part of the idea was that I would come in and work on a couple of defined things–international strategy, sorting out the organization for the non-engineering side of the company. And I feel like that stuff is in relatively good shape,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “I hired a bunch of people, put into place some structure, checked off a bunch of the things that we wanted to do. I kind of had the itch to work on even earlier-stage companies. During this experience I got at Tumblr, I feel even more confident in my abilities to do that now.”

Mr. McLaughlin already boasted quite the résumé. He is a former head of public policy at Google, joining as the team’s first member in 2005. He also served as the deputy CTO for the Obama administration, in addition to helping launch Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers–better known as ICANN–where he climbed the ranks to vice president and chief policy officer.

Mr. Borthwick said that Mr. McLaughlin will be “working with us on all our companies.” However, Mr. McLaughlin was careful to emphasize that he will keep working with Tumblr on “whatever David wants,” he said. “I’m sort of on tap to advise David–or anybody else at the company, but it’s primarily been David that I wanted to keep working with.”

As part of his role at Tumblr, Mr. McLaughlin focused on the company’s international expansion into different languages, which he’ll be bringing to bear in his role as EIR. “I’ve got a lot of experience with Google’s growth phase and internationalization in particular and so, for a number of these early stage companies, figuring out how to handle scaling on the organizational and business side–particularly when they feel ready to go international–is something that I know reasonably well.”

In Brazil, Portugal and the Netherlands, Tumblr tried out different strategies, which Mr. McLauglin described as a “heavy push, medium push and light push.”

“We experimented with different ways to get attention in order to get more users,” he explained. “In Brazil, it was a big meetup in Curitiba, the location of the biggest Tumblr meetup last year, and we decided to kind of reward that in a way … And then we did parties aimed at journalists and tastemakers, if that’s not such a cheesy word to use–influencers in São Paulo and Rio that focused on the local Brazilian creative communities and people that were making really interesting use of Tumblr. In the Netherlands, we did a very low-key event with David, and in Portugal, we did a low key event without David,” partnering with Vice magazine.

Rather than, “adding a ton of offices and hiring a lot of staff overseas,” Tumblr focused on adding content and the ramping up the infrastructure for localization. “We hired up a two-person team in Brazil and have one person in Berlin, but otherwise Tumblr is all in New York.”

Mr. McLaughlin’s other big initiative during his tenure at Tumblr was the editorial side. He hired Chris Mohney from Blackbook and Jessica Bennet from Newsweek to launch a number of blogs. “The most notable of those is Storyboard, but also some departmental blogs, beefing up the content on the staff blogs,” he said, enforcing Mr. Karp’s notion that Tumblr is first and foremost a media company. “I’m super-psyched about that,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I just think it’s gone really well. They’ve produced incredible content. I don’t even think they get the recognition for how good Jess’s writing has been or some of the interviews they’ve done.”

Was Reblorg, a site to highlight “original, creative content” his idea as well? “No, that’s Chris Mahoney,” Mr. McLaughlin said with a laugh. “All credit goes to Chris and Jessica for that.”

As for which Betaworks portfolio companies he might be working with, Mr. McLaughlin wasn’t sure. “I literally just started. Ask me again in a couple of weeks,” he said, adding, “It’s a similar thing to what I did at Tumblr, where I kind of worked on whatever David needed, that’s kind of similar to how I’m seeing my role as EIR.”

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