Kara Swisher

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Social E-Commerce Goes Into Overdrive: LivingSocial Raises Another $14 Million

Could the social group-buying space get any frothier?

Well, yes, it could.

After the recent $135 million funding of Groupon that valued the Chicago start-up at upwards of an eye-popping $1 billion, rival LivingSocial announced to today that it had raised a more modest $14 million in a Series C round.

The Washington, D.C. start-up had raised $25 million in a Series B venture financing only a month ago. And it raised $10 million on top of that since 2008.

Sources estimated the valuation for LivingSocial is several hundred million dollars now.

The newest round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners; Earlier investors U.S. Venture Partners, Grotech Ventures and Steve Case’s Revolution are also participating.

Ironically, Case’s former No. 2 at AOL (AOL), Ted Leonsis has been an early investor in Groupon.

LivingSocial said it will use the new pile of cash to expand to dozens of new markets, adding it was launching four new cities now: Portland, Orange County, Charlotte and Philadelphia.

It now operates in 18 cities across the country.

For those in Silicon Valley who do not consider these prices for all these social e-commerce sites high at all, BoomTown is here to tell you that in the real world the figure is not actually modest, except in comparison.

But LivingSocial will need every penny if it is to compete with Groupon and a growing spate of competitors in the local space, much as is also happening in the social status update arena.

The local outcome for most will inevitably be a sale to a big Internet company like Amazon (AMZN).

Or oblivion, especially since so many similar offerings makes the whole market confusing for both local businesses and customers

In general, most offer a daily deal with a huge discount on a wide range of products and services–from spas to skydiving–in dozens of U.S. cities, for large groups of potential buyers on the Web, through email or via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Using social tools, the idea is use collective buying power to get low prices and push customers to local businesses.

If a deal reaches the number of buyers it needs, which can be in the thousands, these services sell vouchers to the consumers and collect a hefty fee for the sale from the businesses it sends customers to.

The plus for many small businesses is to get a crack at a lot of new consumers–think of it as social networking lead-generation.

This kind of thing has been tried before, of course, centering on consumers who group together to get discounts on items by purchasing in bulk.

In Web 1.0, there were many group-buying sites, most of which failed badly. One of the more high-profile ones, Mercata, received $90 million in funding from investors, including Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures.

No matter in 2010!

That’s due to the VC frenzy going on, spurred by winner-take-all theories–Groupon, for example, got most of its recent mountain of cash from champion Russian overspenders, Digital Sky Technologies.

However it turns out, here is LivingSocial’s official press release:

LivingSocial Raises $14 Million Series C Round Led by Lightspeed Venture Partners; Launches in Portland, Orange County, Charlotte and Philadelphia

Company Also Begins Offering Hyperlocal Deals in Seattle Area–Users Can Now Get Deals Even Closer to their Homes

$14 Million Round Comes on Heels of $25 Million Series B Announcement Last Month

Washington D.C., April 29, 2010–LivingSocial, the social commerce leader behind LivingSocial Deals and top Facebook applications Visual Bookshelf and Pick Your Five, today announced that it has completed a $14 million Series C round of venture funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with U.S. Venture Partners, Grotech Ventures and Steve Case’s Revolution, LLC participating. Because of the rapid growth, and high user demand, LivingSocial will use the capital infusion to expand into additional markets–bringing Deals to dozens more cities throughout the U.S. in 2010. This additional funding comes on the heels of the company’s recent $25 million Series B round announced last month.

“We’ve known and admired the LivingSocial team for a long time, and I have bought many of their terrific local offers. They’ve done an excellent job of growing their user base through smart media buying and excellent knowledge of social channels and virality,” said Jeremy Liew, managing director of Lightspeed Venture Partners. “With this financing round, LivingSocial is very well positioned to bring their great offers to even more people.”

LivingSocial is also launching its Deals program in four new markets: Portland, Orange County, Charlotte and Philadelphia. This brings LivingSocial live in 18 cities across the country with major plans to expand to dozens of markets throughout the year.

“We’re constantly receiving requests from our users to expand and launch in their markets, and this recent funding round will allow us to do just that,” said Tim O’Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder of LivingSocial. “We’re really excited to introduce LivingSocial to Portland, Orange County, Charlotte and Philadelphia to continue generating huge savings for our users and even bigger returns for our merchants.”

LivingSocial users throughout the country saved an average of more than $32 each in March, and have saved tens of millions of dollars since the launch of Deals in 2009. By signing up for LivingSocial’s free daily online service, people are saving an average of 50-70% at their favorite places, such as the hottest local restaurants, spas, sporting events, hotels, and other local attractions.

Because LivingSocial wants to give consumers more availability to the program, the company is launching hyperlocal deals for the Seattle area. Now consumers in areas like Tacoma and Bellevue will start getting deals targeted to their location, in addition to Seattle proper. Hyperlocal deals not only help more consumers explore new things in their city, but these deals also provide merchants with a greater opportunity to reach local audiences on the LivingSocial Deals platform.

LivingSocial is now live in 18 markets including: Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Twin Cities, Chicago, Raleigh Durham, Denver, San Diego, the San Fernando Valley, Portland, Orange County, Charlotte and Philadelphia. Dozens of additional cities are expected to roll out in the coming months. For more information or to sign up your city, go to http://livingsocial.com.

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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