AT&T buys pay-per-call company, Ingenio

updatedAT&T has agreed to acquire privately held Ingenio, a provider of so-called “pay-per-call” technology, for an undisclosed amount.

Ingenio lets businesses bill clients when they call for information, instruction or other educational purposes. It also gives businesses a way to advertise online, letting them provide their phone numbers within online ads.

harvey.jpgWhen customers call the number in the ad, Ingenio tracks the frequency with which the numbers being called (it can do so, because it provides unique phone numbers for this), and charges a fee accordingly.

San Francisco’s Ingenio biggest backer was Benchmark Capital. While the amount of the transaction wasn’t disclosed, Benchmark’s partner Kevin Harvey (pictured here) said the firm made good money on the deal. Harvey has already had two big hits this year. He was the lead partner on Tellme, another voice company, bought by Microsoft, for about $800 million and Zimbra, the open source messaging company bought by Yahoo for $350 million.

A fourth company of his, MySQL, had been talking about going public, possibly by the end of this year. If it does, this would make it one of the most prolific years on record, among Silicon Valley VCs.

The Ingenio transaction is expected to close in early January 2008.

AT&T said it plans to integrate Ingenio’s features into its directory service and local search advertising portfolio, including the YELLOWPAGES.COM Network, AT&T Real Yellow Pages and 1-800-Yellow Pages.

Ingenio had its ups and downs. At first known as Keen, the company raised about $109 million in 1999 and 2000, at the height of the Internet bubble. In 2002, chief executive Karl Jacob was ousted by the board, a new executive came in and changed the name to Ingenio.

Other investors include Amerindo Investment Advisors, Criterion, Impact Venture Partners, Integral Capital Partners and Vulcan Ventures.

Update: Vinny Lingham provides a sinister interpretation of the acquisition, i.e, that AT&T wanted Ingenio’s patents to help it muscle out other players.

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