Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Meet Hashable, Which Wants to Make Money By Introducing You

Describe your startup’s move from one business model to another as a “pivot” and you’re going to incur some eye-rolling these days: The verb is one of most overused terms in techland.

But Mike Yavonditte doesn’t care: Sit down with him and “pivot” is the first thing out of this mouth. It describes how he launched database startup a little more than a year ago, and now has all but abandoned that business to focus on Hashable, a social network aimed at people who take networking very seriously.

Does that sound a lot like LinkedIn? It’s not a coincidence: Hashable is clearly aimed at professionals looking to extract the most out of their social capital.

The basic idea: The company is trying to simultaneously formalize and make introductions easier. As it does so, it’s trying to build up a database that shows not just who knows who, a la LinkedIn, but who really interacts with who.

I like the pitch, but I’m not quite sure how to use the product in real life; perhaps it will get more intuitive over time. And like Foursquare before it, if Hashable takes off, it will cloud my Twitter stream, as people use the service to boast about the introductions they’ve made.

I’m also much more wary about privacy issues with this network than I am about Twitter or Facebook; both of those are more or less open books, as far as I’m concerned. But my professional rolodex is pretty much the most important part of my professional life, and I’m a whole lot more reluctant to share it with the the wider world — which is one of reasons I don’t really spend much time on LinkedIn to begin with.

But investors — or some investors, at least — like the idea. (Warning: Discussion of money, not product, ahead!) Led by Union Square Ventures, they’ve plowed another $4 million into the company at valuation I’m told will end up around $30 million.

When Hashable started raising a new round, those numbers had started closer to $2 million and $20 million, and even then they provoked eye-rolling from some money guys at those levels. The thinking: If you’re going to ask me to invest in yet another social network that’s just launching, aim a lot lower.

But Yavonidtte gets plenty of respect after building Quigo, a search engine marketing company, and selling it to AOL in 2007 for more than $300 million. So you can see why people would be happy to bet on him again.

And given that other startups, with much-less proven founders are raising money at equally high valuations, maybe Hashable’s new deal doesn’t seem crazy.

Or maybe that’s the kind of thinking people use when they’re in a (overused techland word alert!).. bubble.

OK. Back to product! Let’s let Yavonditte, joined by Emily Hickey, his CMO and a rising star, explain what they’re doing in their own words:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik