Reference site Helium raises $17M, lays off 18

Looks like a fresh infusion of venture capital isn’t always enough to stave off layoffs. Helium, a site where users can write articles sharing advice and debating hot topics, has raised $17 million in a first round of funding, according to TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld. But it’s also laying off 30 percent of its team, divided equally between engineering, customer service and sales — 18 people in all.

Mark Ranalli, the Boston company’s chief executive, said that Helium is anticipating a slowdown in advertising rates. With the downturn, the combination of fundraising and job cuts is needed to get Helium to profitability.

Also, the funding was raised over the past year from hedge funds, family trusts and wealthy individuals, so Helium may have already spent some of that $17 million war chest. The round closed with a final $2 million two weeks ago.

Helium features articles on everything from pumpkin decorating tips to “how baseball managers should prepare for the world series” — kind of like About.com, but with user-generated (rather than professionally written) articles. Readers vote on which content is best from randomly-generated pairs of articles. Helium also competes with debate sites like OutQuib and Opposing Vews. In addition to advertising, Helium makes money from a marketplace where writers can sell their services.