darian shirazi

In the annals of Silicon Valley history, Darian Shirazi owns a fascinating footnote: He was the first intern ever hired at Facebook.

Anybody who remembers the party scene toward the end of “The Social Network” might get a chuckle out of that. But Shirazi - who was 17 when he joined Zuck and co. at the Palo Alto rental home that was Facebook’s valley beachhead – is all business: He’s the CEO of a San Francisco startup called Radius that on Wednesday announced $12.4 million in venture capital.

The funding, the company’s second round, comes courtesy of American Express and prior backer BlueRun Ventures (best known as the first venture firm to invest in PayPal). Given Shirazi’s pedigree, you might figure Radius deals in consumer software — and in fact, it started out four years ago as Fwix, which used location-based data to let mobile phone users find interesting stuff nearby. The problem? “We had millions of users,” Shirazi said, “but we couldn’t generate revenue.”

So last year, the company pivoted, as VCs like to say, and began turning its collection of location-based data into a directory of small businesses. “Companies wanted to use our data to prioritize leads,” Shirazi said. Say you’re a sales rep for an insurance company or advertising agency; you might use the Radius database to search for small businesses that have 3-star ratings on Yelp and good user traffic on Foursquare.

In fact, Radius claims it culls information on small businesses from hundreds of thousands of online and social media sources. Sales reps can hunt through all that for new prospects, then integrate the data into CRM tools like Salesforce.com. And the numbers? The company says more than 10 million salespeople use Radius to keep track of twice as many small businesses.

It’s a long way from that Palo Alto rental house, where Shirazi admitted with a laugh he still has fond memories of the backyard zipline. He ended up leaving Facebook for college at Cal, then dropping out and going back to the social network full-time for another couple years.

“Everything I’ve decided to do with my life comes out of the opportunity I had there,” said Shirazi, now 26. “I’ve seen you can really build an amazing company out of nothing. Silicon Valley is all about persistence.”

Peter Delevett Peter Delevett (184 Posts)

Peter Delevett covers startups and venture capital for the San Jose Mercury News. He's been a journalist in Silicon Valley since the dot-com daze.