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    Sunday, April 8, 2012

    Reuter site - Factbox: Lure of Facebook "social commerce" for VCs

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    Factbox: Lure of Facebook "social commerce" for VCs

    Thu, Apr 05 07:09 AM EDT

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The potential of e-commerce on and around Facebook Inc's giant social network has inspired a rash of investments from Silicon Valley venture capitalists and even Wall Street outfits. Here are 10 recent examples.

    - BeachMint, which sells apparel, jewelry, shoes and other accessories through Facebook, has raised about $70 million from investors including Accel Partners, Goldman Sachs, New World Ventures and Millennium Technology Value Partners.

    - Buddy Media, which helps brands manage their Facebook presence, raised $54 million in August from GGV Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, Bay Partners and Insight Venture Partners.

    - Fab.com, a seller of designer goods that is built around Facebook and other social networks, has raised more than $50 million from venture capital firms including Andreessen Horowitz, Menlo Ventures and First Round Capital.

    - OpenSky, a shopping website that lets consumers get recommendations from celebrities through social networks including Facebook, raised $30 million in October from Providence Equity Partners, Highland Capital Partners, Canaan Partners and The Raine Group.

    - Oodle, which runs a classifieds marketplace on Facebook with more than 3 million unique monthly users, has raised more than $20 million from venture capital firms including Greylock Partners and Redpoint Ventures.

    - Yardsellr, which links buyers and sellers through Facebook, raised $5 million in late 2010 from Accel Partners and Harrison Metal Capital, which had previously seeded the business with $750,000.

    - Lockerz, a social shopping network, has raised more than $50 million from investors including venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

    - Payvment, which runs thousands of Facebook stores for small merchants, has raised $8 million from investors including Sierra Ventures and BlueRun Ventures.

    - Wrapp, a social gifting service, has raised more than $10 million from investors including Greylock Partners and Atomico, a venture capital firm run by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström.

    - Minted, a social commerce startup focused on stationery, invitations and greeting cards, raised $5.5 million in November from Benchmark Capital, IDG Ventures and Menlo Ventures. Marissa Mayer of Google and Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp also invested.

    (Reporting By Alistair Barr; Editing by Gary Hill)

    Reuter site - Analysis: Facebook e-commerce: the next big thing?

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    Analysis: Facebook e-commerce: the next big thing?

    Thu, Apr 05 07:05 AM EDT

    By Alistair Barr

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A group of e-commerce start-ups, backed by some of the tech world's most pedigreed financiers, are betting that Facebook Inc can become an e-commerce powerhouse to rival Amazon.com Inc and eBay Inc.

    As the world's largest social network hurtles toward a $5 billion initial public offering, it will come under more pressure from Wall Street to find new sources of profit growth and reduce its reliance on advertising, which accounted for 85 percent of its 2011 revenue.

    Some entrepreneurs and investors increasingly think "f-commerce" - meaning e-commerce on Facebook - is the answer. Start-ups such as BeachMint, Yardsellr, Oodle and Fab.com are coming up with novel ways to persuade Facebook users to not just connect with friends on the social network, but to shop as well.

    Backed by tens of millions of dollars from venture capital firms like Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz, and other big investors like Goldman Sachs, these start-ups are pushing out shopping apps, hosting online garage sales and testing out new business models on Facebook.

    "E-commerce is a huge category with very strong tailwinds and it's a natural move for Facebook," said Sam Schwerin of Millennium Technology Value Partners, which owns Facebook shares and has a stake in BeachMint.

    Amazon revolutionized online shopping by crunching lots of customer and purchase data to come up with relevant, personalized recommendations. In the same vein, Facebook's combination of data, analytics and payment technology could fuel the next generation of e-commerce, Schwerin said.

    Facebook declined to comment, but investors said the company understands the importance of having an e-commerce strategy.

    "It's a big imperative for them," said Theresia Gouw Ranzetta of Accel Partners, an early backer of Facebook. "They understand it's an important strategic benefit for them to make e-commerce players successful on the platform."

    FACTBOX-Social commerce on Facebook

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    BIG BRAND STORES FLOP

    Facebook had 845 million monthly active users at the end of 2011, far higher than Amazon's 164 million active accounts or the eBay online marketplace's 100 million active users.

    But despite that huge base, Facebook is primarily a way to connect with friends, and not an online shopper's first destination. Big retailers including J.C. Penney, Gap and Nordstrom had previously set up stores on Facebook but shut them after generating few sales.

    That has not stopped venture capital firms from pouring money into rookie companies they think have cracked the code.

    There is a lot of buzz about Fab.com, a one-year-old company that has amassed 2 million users who broadcast their purchases via a "bought" button that advertises their shopping habits to friends. Fab built its user base in part by offering $5 a month to those who sign up - Chief Executive Jason Goldberg said "tens of thousands" opted in.

    BeachMint co-founder Diego Berdakin said his company had set up a live video event called StyleMint.tv last holiday season featuring a brief appearance by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's sister, Randi Zuckerberg. For about two hours, they showcased BeachMint products that people could buy with one click.

    More than 50,000 Facebook users watched the show and a "huge percentage" bought something, Berdakin said, adding, "At the time, it was the biggest day in our history in terms of sales."

    Yardsellr, started in 2010 by former eBay manager Danny Leffel, organizes people into 3,000 communities, or "blocks," based on common interests. When someone posts a product for sale, it is sent to the news feeds of people in that block and purchases can be made with a few clicks.

    Gross merchandise sales, a measure of the value of products, has been growing about 30 percent a month, according to Leffel. "Social commerce could be bigger than eBay," he argued.

    Then there's Oodle, a start-up headed by Craig Donato, who runs Facebook's official marketplace, which boasts more than 3 million unique monthly users. When buyers and sellers post items, their Facebook identities are attached, giving users more confidence in the transactions, Donato said.

    MAKING MONEY

    For now, Facebook is making money mostly by selling ads to merchants trying to target potential customers. But many experts say it is a matter of time before the eight-year-old social network will ask for a cut of shopping transactions, or seek other ways to profit.

    They point to Facebook's relationship with online games developer Zynga Inc as an example. Facebook takes a 30 percent cut of revenue generated from the sale of virtual goods used to play Zynga games.

    Gamers pay for those virtual goods using Facebook Credits, a virtual currency that could eventually be used to buy physical goods, according to some Internet entrepreneurs.

    "Facebook has a huge opportunity to monetize e-commerce," said Christian Taylor, chief executive of Payvment, a startup that operates thousands of Facebook stores. "They have the infrastructure and team to pursue that."

    Others downplay the potential for Facebook Credits, saying physical goods offer much thinner profit margins than virtual products.

    "The 30 percent model is great for products with near-zero cost of goods sold," said Kevin Hartz, head of ticketing start-up Eventbrite, which works closely with Facebook. "But selling a TV with thin margins, that model will just not apply."

    Nevertheless, if e-commerce on Facebook takes off, many expect the social network to find a way to make money off it.

    "When you build on top of a platform like Facebook, there is always the risk that the platform provider decides to change the rules later on," said Laura Valverde of Beetailer, which runs more than 3,000 stores on Facebook.

    "We have seen this with Facebook Credits and games. So, once social commerce fully takes off, it will only be natural that Facebook tries to benefit one way or another from it."

    (Editing by Edwin Chan, Tiffany Wu and Bob Burgdorfer)

    Reuter site - After Jobs Act, Case turns focus to immigration

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    After Jobs Act, Case turns focus to immigration

    Thu, Apr 05 16:01 PM EDT

    By Sarah McBride

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As he gathers with other movers and shakers at the White House on Thursday afternoon to witness President Barack Obama's signing of the Jobs Act, AOL Inc co-founder Steve Case is already thinking ahead to the next cause he can help champion behind the scenes: immigration reform.

    "Our work's not done," Case told Reuters in an interview, adding that he would still pause to celebrate the passage of the Jobs Act, intended to help start-up companies raise money and hold initial public offerings. Case lobbied heavily for the new law, milking his connections in the Washington area to build consensus around the legislation.

    Now that the Jobs Act is completed, making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to work in the United States is one of the most important issues facing the startup community, said Case, who runs Revolution LLC, a Washington-based venture investment firm. Revolution focuses on Internet plays and has backed companies ranging from deals company LivingSocial to short-term car-rental service Zipcar Inc.

    Like many entrepreneurs, he favors legislation that would focus solely on skilled immigrants rather than trying to wrap in the contentious issue of illegal immigration.

    Case believes there is a chance Congress could act before the November elections, given the success of the Jobs Act.

    "The biggest battle was around the skepticism anything could get done in Washington in an election year," he said. "Momentum begets momentum."

    But a narrowed bill may be controversial among some groups. Many constituents including Hispanic voters do not want to separate the issues of highly skilled immigrants from illegal immigrants, believing that pairing the two is the only way that action will be taken on the more difficult issue of illegal immigration.

    Despite Case's optimism, Congress remains highly divided, with many members reluctant to pass anything that could be seen as a boon to Obama.

    Immigrants founded or cofounded almost half of the 50 top venture-backed companies in the United States, according to a December study by the National Foundation for American Policy.

    Of those 50 companies, 23 had at least one immigrant founder, the study found. In addition, 37 of the 50 companies employed at least one immigrant in a key management position such as chief technology officer.

    Companies with immigrant founders include some of Silicon Valley's hot startups, such as textbook-rental service Chegg, founded by Indian Aayush Phumbhra and Briton Osman Rashid; online craft marketplace Etsy Inc, founded by Swiss entrepreneur Haim Schoppik; and Web publisher Glam Media, founded by Indians Samir Arora and Raj Narayan.

    The countries that supplied the most founders included India, Israel, Canada, Iran and New Zealand, the study found, and the immigrant-founded companies created an average of 150 jobs.

    The study looked at the top 50 venture-backed companies as measured by research firm VentureSource, based on factors such as company growth and the amount of capital raised. VentureSource considered only companies valued at less than $1 billion.

    Case, who stepped down from the board of what was then called AOL Time Warner in 2003, rules out any eventual run for office. He said he sees his role as a bridge-builder between the political parties and investors.

    "Revolution is really the main event," he said. "That's my core competency."

    (Reporting By Sarah McBride and Laura MacInnis; editing by Matthew Lewis)

    Reuter site - Two more execs leave BlackBerry maker in shake-up

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    Two more execs leave BlackBerry maker in shake-up

    Fri, Apr 06 17:41 PM EDT

    TORONTO (Reuters) - Blackberry maker Research In Motion Ltd is losing two more senior executives as the money-losing company embarks on a strategic overhaul that its new chief executive says could result in its sale.

    Alan Brenner, a senior vice president for the BlackBerry platform, will leave after a transition period, and Alistair Mitchell, a vice president for the BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging product, has already left, RIM spokeswoman Tenille Kennedy said in an email on Friday.

    A stream of executives have left RIM in the past year as its once-dominant market share has slipped amid fierce competition from Apple Inc and phones running on Google Inc's Android. RIM shares have dropped more than 80 percent from a peak of almost $70 in February 2011, to $12.67 on Nasdaq on Thursday.

    Last week, RIM said it would stop issuing financial forecasts and that it was reviewing strategic options, such as entering partnerships and joint ventures or licensing its software.

    CEO Thorsten Heins, who took the reins in January when longtime co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie resigned under pressure, would not rule out a possible sale of the company.

    Several senior executives announced their departures in last week's earnings report - including Balsillie, who stepped down from the board. RIM posted a net loss of $125 million after booking writedowns on its legacy BlackBerry 7 phones and goodwill.

    RIM last recorded a loss under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in the fiscal 2005 fourth quarter, when it booked tax expenses and paid to resolve a patent infringement case that had threatened to shut down its U.S. operations.

    The Waterloo, Ontario-based company is seeking a chief marketing officer and a chief operating officer.

    In July RIM slashed 2,000 jobs, or about 11 percent of its workforce, to cut costs as sales and profit fell. [ID:nL3E7IP251] Its developer relations and sales and marketing teams were particularly hard hit.

    Head of marketing Keith Pardy left in March 2011, just before RIM launched its PlayBook tablet, which fared poorly. Two of his staff later moved to Samsung Electronics.

    Chief Operating Officer Don Morrison resigned in July after taking medical leave. A second COO, Jim Rowan, left last week along with Chief Technology Officer David Yach.

    Jeff McDowell, senior vice president for platform marketing and alliances, left RIM last July and Tyler Lessard, a senior vice president for global alliances and developer relations, left in September.

    (Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Richard Chang)

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