Once, around six years ago, Karp’s mentor, Fred Seibert, gave him some tough love. Karp had begun working for the television and film producer after dropping out of New York’s prestigious Bronx High School of Science at the age of 15. He had taught himself how to code, and his parents homeschooled him while he worked for Seibert and built Davidville, which he called “an invention company.” Seibert helped him get his next job, as the chief technology officer of UrbanBaby. After Karp cashed out, in his late teens, Seibert offered some unsolicited advice. “He thought I looked like a chump because I was wearing a tie too often,” Karp says. Doogie Howser, M.D., wore a tie every day; a tech boy-wonder also had to dress the part. (Karp now sticks to hooded sweatshirts and jeans.)
It was 2007 when Karp, then 19, turned his interest to blogs. Blogging was already widespread, but existing services, like WordPress, presumed a familiarity with things like HTML that many would-be bloggers didn’t have. Karp wondered why no one had invented something simpler, so he did it himself. Bloggers flocked to the site, which he called Tumblr.
The company has come a long way from two employees in a tiny Manhattan office. It now occupies two floors in a loft building in Manhattan’s tony Gramercy neighborhood. There is beer in the kitchen and a Ping-Pong table on the sixth floor, but compared with the Chuck E. Cheese office environment of other Internet startups, the atmosphere is relatively sedate. “These are nerds,” says Tumblr VP Andrew McLaughlin, the former deputy technology chief for the Obama White House. “People like to make goofy sci-fi GIFs, not so much tank beers through a funnel.”