Here are the latest Silicon Valley tidbits that fell between the cracks this week. Happy Easter weekend!
Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams to launch Socializr? Abrams, the early developer of the social networking concept, and brain behind Friendster, is apparently about to launch a new social networking site Socializr any day now, according to a well-placed source. (Check out the colorful graphic on the site’s placeholder.) Abrams left Friendster after venture capitalists invested in that company. This time around, he is building with simpler architecture (Friendster had problems), and he apparently isn’t interested in VC backing, or so we’ve heard. He’s got offices on 4th Street in SF, a group of about six or seven guys, and has angel backing from the Web 2.0 crowd, including from Michael Tanne at Wink.com. A few other reports have leaked out recently, at Zoli’s blog and Dorrian Porter’s, suggesting he has raised $500,000. We put in a call to Abrams, but haven’t heard back yet.
Meetup valued at $40 million plus — When Meetup Inc, a provider of Internet software for managing community groups, sold 10 percent of itself to Silicon Valley investors eBay, Omidyar Network, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson and others, we didn’t know what the company’s value was. Turns out it is pretty high, for a software that shouldn’t be too difficult to replicate, and for a company that competes against a growing number of community related sites. Dan Primack has done the math after seeing some regulatory filings, and comes up with $40 million plus.
Venture capital industry riskier — We’ve seen a boomlet recently of capital flowing into VC firms, but is that about to end? The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund, and one of the largest investors in venture capital firms, has just lowered its long-term returns expectations for private equity. Venture capital is risky, because of the long-term bets venture capital firms make; capital is invested for a long time, and investors who lock up their money for years in funds without being able to access it again, want to be sure to make a bigger profit than they would from simply investing in stocks and bonds. CalPERS now believes VC firms will return only 3 percentage points more than the public markets, down from their earlier expected 5 percentage points, according to a report at VentureWire (subscription required). The reason for the decline is apparently because a surplus of cash flowing into VC firms, which gives VCs leverage to demand higher fees and better profit-sharing terms from their investors.
Google is now a portal, no doubt about it — With Google’s delivery of a calendar service, John Battelle says Google can longer avoid being called what it has studiously avoided being called: A portal.
Zoom Systems raises $10M — Goldman Sachs invested the money into Zoom Systems in a third round of funding. Zoom sells electronics and other accessories in vending machines in airports and hotels. We’ve seen the machines around, but they never seem to have the goodies we’re looking for at the time. Interesting that this would be a venture play. The technology doesn’t seem too extraordinary, and appears more like a block-and-tackle execution play rather than high-risk loss-leader play. They are an SF company.
Silicon Valley based Zixxo launches local coupon service, via RSS — Techcrunch reports on this new company, which lets you search for store coupons in your area, saving you a lot of hassle and time if you are into coupons. Last year, apparently, 323 billion coupons were distributed in the U.S., and of those 4.5 billion were actually used. Online coupon companies have been tried before, but this tweak of using RSS is smart.
Renkoo, an online event creation company, raises $3 million — The Palo Alto company is just the latest Web 2.0 player to go after the “event creation” market, Techcrunch also reports. It has raised the money from Matrix Partners. It apparently hasn’t launched yet, but joins companies like San Francisco’s Skobee (see Techcrunch for a good review).
Patent system broken, for some — Increasingly, it seems, venture capitalists are speaking out against the U.S. patent system, which may be harming innovation, not helping it. Greg Blonder had a piece in Business Week, Brad Feld of Mobius calls software patents an “abomination” and says they should be abolished. Fred Wilson, of Union Square, weighs in too. And Mike Masnik, never one to miss a dig at the patent system, throws in a couple of punches. If the patent system is so ridiculous, why isn’t there more outrage here in Silicon Valley, the hotbed of software companies (not merely those protected by patents, but the ones who want to compete and would have justification to speak out)? Well, local Silicon Valley company Tivo isn’t feeling too bad about the patent system, having just won $74 million in damages in a federal jury ruling which said EchoStar infringed on TiVo’s patent on its DVR box. TiVo had called it a “life or death” matter.
Though, in a typically frustrating co-announcement, the Patent Office said it is in the process or re-examining TiVo’s patent, having determined there is a substantial question concerning the validity of the patent. Good grief, this really is out of control. Even when there’s doubt about validity, the jury judgment yesterday gives TiVo more leverage to negotiate royalty deals.