Meebo raising round, valued up to $250 million. Bear Stearns sold for $236 million

Meebo, the site that lets users send instant messages from a single page — across various IM platforms — is trying to raise $25-$30 million at a nose-bleed valuation of between $200 million and $250 million, I’m hearing from multiple sources. This is quadruple its valuation from its previous round of between $60-$70 million last year, and a big bet that its fast-growing user base is worth something.

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Mountain View, Calif.- based Meebo has hired a San Francico bank, Montgomery & Co to shop the deal. We’ve heard that two, possibly three, larger strategic investors — and these may include Facebook and MySpace — have expressed interest, though things are moving quickly, and one of them may have backed off.

I’m quite ready to eat my hat, if this funding happens. I wrote last week that the market had changed considerably over the past few months, and that Meebo wouldn’t be able to raise money at the stratospheric rates it might have done last year — because of the evaporation of interest from hedge funds. That analysis hasn’t changed. But there’s apparently still interest from some strategic investors. If Meebo pulls this off, its a great story, an even greater one than Bebo selling itself to AOL last week for $850 million. Note: Bebo was represented by Montgomery & Co. rival bank Allen & Co., which also represents other consumer-facing startups like Digg and Slide.

However, the value is surprisingly high because Meebo is a mere messaging service that hasn’t proven yet that it can make good money. The site’s core service lets you chat across competing instant message services, including AIM, Gtalk, Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft messenger, but other companies also offer that service. The company is now starting to focus on making money. In the past year, it has started relationships with a number of music labels and other partners, and also works with video advertising service company VideoEgg. It’s hard to predict the value of Meebo’s business model, especially in the short-term where advertising and other forms of making money in social site like social networks — or Meebo — has come harder than some expected.

Of course, this also comes at a time when the consumer economy has taken a hit, resulting in even large banks like Bear Sterns getting sold for far less than their previous values. Some investors remain quite skeptical about Meebo.

On the other hand, Meebo has some things going for it. It has attracted 29 million monthly unique users worldwide. While other chat services abound, Meebo has done an especially good job at executing to make its service very simple to use. It has rolled out other compelling products too, such as Meebo rooms (like the one we embedded beneath the article), which has been growing quickly, as well as its smaller developer platform. In fact, Meebo won “best consumer startup” at The Crunchies award ceremony in January: An important factor was that its rooms grew to more than 20 million users since the service launched last May.

More generally, there may also be more competition — if not consolidation — among instant messaging services. We’ve heard that Facebook is working on its own IM service, we’ve also heard that Facebook has looked at buying AIM from AOL, although this sounds highly unlikely considering that Facebook likes to create products rather than buy them. And, now that AOL is integrating Bebo’s social network with AIM, this sounds even more ludicrous.

The banker, Montgomery, has requested that all offers be in by Wednesday, and has told investors it has several parties interested at a valuation of $200 million. We’ve heard different things about who is interested. We’ve heard that at least one, possibly two, of the strategic investors isn’t interested in sharing the investment, preferring instead to buy Meebo entirely. We haven’t confirmed that. Montgomery is reportedly holding out for a separate venture investor, in order to help set the price of the round, at which the strategic investor or investors would also invest.

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Eric Eldon contributed to this article.


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