Wiretap: Goings on about town

For an outfit that only officially launched two weeks ago, Google Capital sure has been busy. The search giant’s growth equity fund has pumped tens of millions of dollars into three companies: SurveyMonkey, Renaissance Learning and Lending Club. And on Wednesday, online real estate marketplace Auction.com got into the action with a $50 million infusion.

David Lawee of Lawee Google Capital

David Lawee of Lawee Google Capital

David Lawee, the former Google marketing and M&A chief who’s now running Google Capital, told me the deal hits his outfit’s sweet spot. “You want to be able to serve these companies in a way that may be different than you might serve smaller companies,” he said. Auction.com, he noted, already has 1,000 employees, about a tenth of them in Silicon Valley. And the Irvine-based startup, unlike popular sites like Zillow and Trulia, doesn’t just help buyers and sellers gather research, but “actually facilitates the transaction. There’s no one doing this at this scale.” 

Auction.com president Jake Seid, a longtime tech investor in his own right, said Google’s product-development and big data chops were as important as the size of the check. “We’re in a special time in the growth of the Internet,” he said. “Pillars of the economy are moving online.” That includes real estate: Seven-year-old Auction.com said it handled $7 billion worth of transactions last year. Seid added, “We believe the entire market benefits from transparency and efficiency. That’s what the Internet does.”

In other news:

– Nasdaq, which last year acquired SharesPost with plans to turn it into a branded marketplace for buyers and sellers of private-company stock, officially rolled out the result. Dubbed the Nasdaq Private Market, the San Francisco venture will give Nasdaq a piece of the action when startup CEOs decide to put off going public but still offer their investors and employees a way to cash out.

– Gary Kremen, who exploded to Silicon Valley fame via the Sex.com saga and more recently has been investing in more staid pursuits like cleantech, is opening up yet another new chapter: He’s launched an accelerator for startups focused on digital currency Ripple. If you’re not familiar with it, Ripple was released last year by by E-Loan founder Chris Larsen and Bitcoin pioneer Jed  McCaleb; Kremen’s PR folks spin it as “Bitcoin without the issues,” issues like the recent cratering of Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox.  Interestingly, though, Larsen told me via email that he doesn’t see Ripple as an alternative to Bitcoin but as a “distributed payments protocol that grew out of Bitcoin” and lets people transact any currency, virtual or government-backed. Larsen added, “We stand behind the strength and resilience of the Bitcoin protocol and community.” Nevertheless, he’s psyched about Kremen’s new effort.

Kevin Hartz, Eventbrite CEO

Kevin Hartz, Eventbrite CEO

– And, online-ticketing startup Eventbrite announced a new product that lets users sell reserved seating for their events. PR people will tell you with chagrin that I almost never write about product news, but to me, Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz isn’t any old entrepreneur: He was one of the first people I had coffee with when I started on the tech beat way back in 2000. Hartz had just sold a startup that set hotels up with high-speed Internet and was dabbling with a few ideas; one of them was putting some of the first money into the company that became PayPal. Hartz later became the first investor in Pinterest, which last I checked sported a $4 billion dollar valuation.

Last year, EventBrite sold $1 billion worth of tickets to everything from conferences to concerts, rodeos to road races. Hartz and his cofounder/wife, Julia, told me customers had been clamoring for the ability to sell assigned seating, and the new software helps event organizers figure out which tickets will sell first and where they should be priced. Other changes to the site’s back-end architecture will let it handle sales 10 times faster, Kevin Hartz said.

It’s been almost a year since EventBrite closed a $60 million funding round from Tiger Global and T. Rowe Price, and the 340-person startup’s been growing rapidly abroad. Given how tech-friendly the IPO market has been, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Hartz and Hartz march down that road in the near future … And having seen Kevin Hartz’s earlier startup, Xoom, go public last year, I’ve gotta think Wall Street will be interested in the money-generating possibilities of Eventbrite’s new product set. 

Lawee photo, top, courtesy of Google Capital; Kevin Hartz photo courtesy Evenbrite.


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