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Photo illustration by Adam Ewing and Mike Freeman
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Numbers current as of press time. Graphic is representational, not to scale. Information Graphic by Mike Freeman
You know the guy who was a major fan of Judas Priest, singing in a tribute band, and then he got called up to the big leagues to front the real band? Richmonder Marc LaFountain is sort of the online version of Tim "Ripper" Owens; he was one of the first 3,000 users of Tumblr, back in 2007, and now he is one of the company's leaders. His blog is at marclafountain.com.
To understand just how early an adopter LaFountain is, 18 million blogs existed on Tumblr in May.
I view the platform as a cross between Twitter and Facebook. Tumblr is good for sharing pictures (50 percent of its content) and links, like Facebook. Short bites of text are the norm, like Twitter, although you aren't limited to 140 characters on Tumblr.
Topics range from the serious to the seriously goofy, including a blog devoted to Photoshopped pictures of Paula Deen riding things, and Peanutweeter, which repurposes Peanuts strips. Fashion blogging is huge on Tumblr, including the big names: Vogue, Alexander McQueen's McQ line, Stefano Gabbana and many more.
Tumblr's audience skews young — lots of middle- and high-school kids are on it, LaFountain says — but major media outlets are also jumping on the bandwagon.
Returning to LaFountain's story, he sent an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, declaring that the company needed a community manager to answer technical questions from users — and that he was available. Tumblr took LaFountain up on the offer, hiring him part time in December 2007 and then full time in April 2008.
This story might not be that unusual if all of the players were in Silicon Valley, but Tumblr is based in Brooklyn, and LaFountain has lived in Richmond since 2000. As the privately held company funded by venture-capital investors has grown, so has the tech-support crew based here.
Four people work full time, with four part-time contractors, and four more contractors were just hired. Tumblr has an office in the Corrugated Box Building in Manchester, which it shares with Moblux, an app company with which Tumblr has a contractual relationship.
"We wanted a fun, creative space, and we wanted to be surrounded by creative people," LaFountain says. A lot of the work the tech-support team does is keeping spammers and other ugly things away from the blogs.
"We don't want Tumblr to be a troll-ridden place," LaFountain says, and so far, it's not — a major achievement. He also meets with the operations and development departments in New York in person every few weeks, but plenty of e-mails fly between the offices every day. It's a company on the move.
Tumblr is "staffing up very quickly," LaFountain says. "There's a potential for growth to be significant."