A Father and Son Team That Founds Web Start-Ups Wants to Finance Them, Too: Ken and Ben Lerer Get Their Own Fund

Published on February 2, 2010
by Peter Kafka

Are you cobbling together a start-up in New York City and looking for cash? Good news: A lot of wealthy and wired people want to write you a check.

Meet the newest batch: Lerer Media Ventures, a new fund run by Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer and his son, Thrillist co-founder Ben Lerer.

The two men say they’re closing the fund’s first round in the next few days. When they’re done, they will have around $7 million to put into angel/early-stage investments–primarily in New York tech/media companies, though they intend to play on the West Coast too.

If you want a sense of what the Lerers are looking for, check out deals they’ve already done, like Hot Potato, Paperless Post, and GDGT.

Their investors include a number of bold-faced names, at least by tech/media standards. Among them: Pilot Group’s Bob Pittman, ZelnickMedia’s Strauss Zelnick, SoftBank Capital partner Mike Perlis, Hunch co-founder (and prolific blogger) Chris Dixon, uber-angel investor Ron Conway and Lerer’s Huffington Post co-founder, Arianna Huffington.

The Lerers join the ranks of other investors interested in New York start-ups, including early-stage venture capital shops Union Square Ventures, Spark Capital and First Round Capital, and a set of smaller funds like IA Capital Partners, Betaworks and Founder Collective.

The fact that the last two funds are directly connected to the Lerers–Ken is an investor in Betaworks (and shares office space with it), and Chris Dixon is an investor in Founder Collective–shows just how interlinked the New York start-up scene is. The same players seem to invest in the same deals, and now they’re investing in one another.

For instance: Check out the investor list for Brooklyn-based Hot Potato, which looks a lot like the Lerers’ group.

Or consider the fact that Pittman once worked with Ken Lerer at AOL (AOL) and now funds Ben Lerer’s newsletter company. Or the fact that Perlis, via SoftBank, is a Huffington Post investor and that former SoftBank partner and current Huffpo CEO Eric Hippeau will be an adviser to the new fund. Etc.

If you’re a cynic, you might call such familiarity overly cozy. And you might worry about the chances for a start-up that doesn’t find favor with the collective. If you’re an optimist, you’d say there’s nothing wrong with like-minded investors who like to collaborate.

No surprise what side Ken Lerer is on. And what about the growing number of people who want to invest in Web start-ups again? Not a problem, either.

“In angel investing, you don’t really have competitors. You go ahead and do your thing,” Lerer insists. “I don’t look at Internet or Internet investing as competitive, generally.”

Fair enough. If anyone feels otherwise, sound off in the comments below.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll note that even I have the faintest of links to this group, though it’s mainly aspirational. Ken Lerer was an early backer of my former employer, Silicon Alley Insider, and I have the tiniest of investments in that company, too.

[Image credit: Tony the Misfit]

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