WhaleShark Catches $150 Million Round to Invest in Couponing Craze

WhaleShark Media has raised $150 million in venture capital to continue buying up coupon-oriented sites around the globe.

The shell company has grown through acquisition, picking up eight sites in the past two years, including RetailMeNot.com and Deals.com in the U.S., and VoucherCodes.co.uk in the U.K. In all, the company claims to attract 100 million unique visitors a year, most of whom are seeking discounts on anything from a gallon of milk to a pair of shoes.

This year, WhaleShark expects to be profitable on revenues exceeding $70 million.

The company’s CEO, Cotter Cunningham, told AllThingsD in an interview that the company is a classic roll-up. Its first $150 million in capital was spent on acquisitions, and that’s how it intends to spend its next $150 million.

Investors in the round include J.P. Morgan Asset Management and Institutional Venture Partners. Existing investors include Austin Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Adams Street Partners and Google Ventures.

To date, the company has raised nearly $300 million in two rounds.

“We are actively pursuing a number of acquisitions, and it will take us another year to spend the money,” Cunningham said.

The coupon-clipping business, while ancient, has gotten its sexy back in recent months, thanks to the success of Groupon and the consumer’s general shift in thinking to look for deals online rather than in the Sunday newspaper. VCs have recognized this behavior change and have gravitated to it like a teenager to Justin Bieber.

CouponCabin.com of Whiting, Ind., raised $54 million, Coupons.com secured $230 million in two megarounds, and CouponTrade.com has secured a more modest $2.4 million in capital. I’m sure there are many more that I’m forgetting.

Cunningham says a number of things are driving the trend, and while Groupon’s popularity has helped, WhaleShark is not a daily deals site.

“Groupon went out and created a whole new market with a big sales force,” he said. “They’ve done an amazing job of creating a new market focused on an interesting aspect of the coupon that didn’t exist two or three years ago. Our focus is more on taking the existing couponing model and moving it online.”

Essentially, it’s the newspaper circular that WhaleShark is going after. “I’m a huge fan of newspapers, but yes, ultimately that’s what we are doing,” Cunningham ’fessed up.

Today, it has aggregated about half a million coupons, from 130,000 merchants, on its site. Many of them are uploaded by consumers, who received a free shipping code in an email from the Gap or Old Navy. Customers have self-reported to WhaleShark that they save about $20 on average per transaction.

The business won’t require even half the sales staff of Groupon. Today, WhaleShark has about 100 people at its Austin headquarters, and 40 people in the U.K. Cunningham anticipates adding 50 to 75 employees in Austin, and doubling numbers abroad.

The company earns a commission from about 10 percent of the offers it distributes on the site. Additionally, it hopes to support the sites through advertising as it attracts a large audience.

[Photo credit: sdc2027.]

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