The Start-Up Whisperer: Michael Dearing Is the Hottest Angel Investor You've Never Heard Of

Published on February 16, 2010
by Kara Swisher

Anyone paying attention to the heated-up acquisition market in Silicon Valley knows all about AdMob, the mobile advertising start-up acquired by Google for $750 million last November.

Or Xoopit, the social email firm, which Yahoo (YHOO) bought last summer for $20 million.

Or Mixer Labs, creator of GeoAPI, which Twitter picked up in December.

And then, there’s last week’s purchase of social search phenom Aardvark by Google (GOOG) for a reported $50 million.

What a lot of people might not know is the prescient but very low-profile angel investor all these companies have in common: Michael Dearing (pictured here).

The former top exec at eBay (EBAY), who has worked at Bain & Company as well as Disney (DIS), is now a Stanford University professor.

But more to the point, Dearing has quietly become very successful at picking innovative winners from a wide range of mostly consumer Internet start-ups, mostly in Silicon Valley.

Along with his recent series of hits, other investments include Widgetbox, CafePress, DocVerse, FanSnap, Lumos Labs, Polyvore, Doostang, BloomSpot and MocoSpace.

He invests in all these start-ups via an investment vehicle called Harrison Metal, which he runs with another former eBay exec, Erik Rannala.

Harrison Metal is named after John Harrison, the inventor of the marine chronometer, which allowed for accurate measuring of longitude. According to its Web site, it “invests in early stage, technology driven businesses led by exceptional entrepreneurs.”

While I had a delightful lunch with Dearing recently, at which he nicely managed to convince me not to give him the BoomTown video treatment, he also politely declined to be interviewed for this piece.

Thankfully, his investees did not decline, and quickly sent large bouquets of gratitude when I asked for comments about Dearing:

Aaardvark co-founder Max Ventilla:

“Michael was among the very first angel investors to get behind Aardvark and stayed critically involved until the end, providing whatever the Company needed. Dearing is an 11 out of 10.”

AdMob founder and CEO Omar Hamoui:

“MD is a great strategist and provided us with very thoughtful advice during some of the formative days of the company. It’s exciting to see him step more fully into the role of early investor/advisor with Harrison Metal.”

And, finally, Xoopit co-founder and CEO Bijan Marashi:

“Michael Dearing has the very rare skill of being able to quickly spot and render the core elements of strategy surrounding a project–the things that matter and those that don’t. In a matter of a few brush strokes, I’ve seen him help teams focus and evolve their activities into actions that generate tremendous value. Moreover, he’s a deep listener and an inspiring mentor. At Xoopit, he got behind the team and helped us stay on-point to our mission, which can sometimes be tricky for an ambitious startup in a big space.”

So, while he might not like the attention, Dearing is likely to be getting more if this record keeps up.

Rob Go wrote a sharp piece on Harrison and what he calls “Micro VC’s,” before the Aardvark deal–which I had not seen until someone on Twitter pointed it out to be, but which you can read here.

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