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Digital studio Betaworks is all about the real time web, so how’s this for speed? It took the company less than a year to generate a return on the $20 million it raised last March. Over the weekend PandoDaily reported that Betaworks gave back all invested capital plus a dividend with cash left over for its balance sheet.

Founder and chief executive John Borthwick used his letter to investors to lay out the four trends Betaworks believes will guide the future of the internet business:

  1. Proliferation of devices that are connected to networks is accelerating the rate of innovation.
  2. Connected devices are enabling real-time services and real-time networks.
  3. Networks of people, ideas and participation matter more than networks of devices.
  4. Great design has become increasingly vital as computing has gotten less expensive.

The tools that Betaworks is building are being employed by some of the masters of modern day media. Conservative radio host Glenn Beck, for example, relies on Chartbeat to understand what stories his audience is most engaged with as he talks to them.

The three in house companies that are being built at Betaworks (bit.ly, Chartbeat and SocialFlow) are all increasing their focus on generating real revenues. Bit.ly hired a new CEO, Peter Stern, built out an enterprise sales team and launched an enterprise reputation management tool. The company is aiming to put out its first consumer offering by March.

Newsbeat, the high-end real-time analytics tool from Chartbeat, hit a million dollar run rate. The company promoted Tony Haile to CEO and recently picked up an additional $1 million inside round of funding to maintain its rapid growth as it raises a big new round of capital. And SocialFlow is growing so fast, it needs a new office outside the Betaworks building.

Betaworks, based in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, lost co-founder Andy Weissman to Union Square Ventures, but has replaced him with Sam Mandel, formerly an EVP at Tweetdeck. It will be interesting to see where the company goes this year with a large part of the real-time social networking industry hitting the public markets. A big part of Betaworks’ winning year may have come from its sale of Groupon on the public markets and the majority of stake in Twitter on the private markets.

It’s tough to evaluate exactly how well Betaworks’ investors made out. The basic rule of thumb is that venture investors want a 3X return. But in this case, the investors got their capital back and then some; plus they maintained their original stake as shareholders in the company. So regardless of the return, this has to be seen as a validation and a win for Betaworks’ model.


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