Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Former Microsoft Dealmaker Fritz Lanman Launches Livestar Recommendations App

At 30 years old, Livestar CEO Fritz Lanman is leading an inverted tech career.

He’s stepping away from the multibillion-dollar takeover attempts and the killer angel investing portfolio to launch a little start-up of his own.

Livestar is one of those companies that makes an app that’s ever so subtly different from something lots of other people are trying to do. It’s a personalized recommendations iPhone app for all sort of things. If you follow this stuff closely, think: Oink, Stamped and Jotly.

Seattle-based Livestar is — of course! — starting with restaurant recommendations, like other would-be Foursquare- and Yelp-killers such as Ness and Nosh and Alfred. It also plans to add movies, music and wine.

But Lanman thinks he has a couple of things figured out better than other people: Livestar is seeded with expert content and reviews from everywhere else, so it doesn’t feel empty at first. And the app is designed around friends asking friends — via Facebook and text message — to fill out quick ratings forms so it can build its own content.

Lanman said he thinks this social obligation will be a stronger motivator for participation than Foursquare check-ins or Yelp community ego-boosting.

A little background on Lanman: After graduating with a history major from Yale in 2003, he landed on the Internet strategy team at Microsoft. Lanman is one of those lanky, friendly guys that seems to be undaunted and comfortable in any situation, which is perhaps why he was able to play a role in huge deals at such a young age.

While at Microsoft, Lanman helped try to buy Facebook and internally put his career on the line to justify an investment in the social network at a then-incredible valuation of $15 billion in 2007. He then helped lead Microsoft’s $44.6 billion bid to take over Yahoo in 2008, which ended up in a search deal instead.

Then, in the past two years, Lanman became an angel investor, with 30 consumer Internet start-ups backed, including Square and Pinterest.

But what he really wanted to do was start his own thing.

Livestar’s team of seven, based in Seattle, has spent the past year analyzing expert opinions and user reviews from sites like Yelp and turning them into star ratings (it doesn’t have official licenses to any of this content, but links out in order to drive traffic to it). The app also includes each restaurant’s menu and at-a-glance information.

The crux of the app is the part that surveys users and their friends about their opinions, by asking them to contribute their own star ratings. Building a critical mass of content here is going to be hard, which Lanman readily admits.

Livestar has raised about $2 million from angel investors including Allen and Co., Blake Krikorian, Owen van Natta, Vivi Nevo, Troy Carter, Casey Wasserman, Chernin Group, SV Angel, Mitch Kapor, Paul Buchheit, Hadi and Ali Partovi and Ray Ozzie.

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