Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Two Years and $33 Million Later, Start-Up Investor Lerer Ventures Starts Building Its Own Companies

A couple of years ago, Ken Lerer and his son Ben put together an investment fund that concentrates on early-stage start-ups. Which means they were doing the same thing that lots of other well-off, well-connected guys have been doing for the last couple years.

At the time, the Lerers’ pitch was that they were different because they were primarily focused on New York-area companies, and that’s still true.

But now they’re starting to carve out a new niche for themselves by actually building some homegrown companies, too.

These come in two flavors. Some are full-blown start-ups where they are taking on a hands-on role, like YouTube channel programmer Bedrocket Media, or the new video news start-up they aren’t saying much about yet.

The other ones are “service” companies they are helping launch, with the notion that they’ll help their other portfolio companies with functions like PR and marketing.

One thread connecting a lot of these ventures: People who have spent time at the Huffington Post.

The PR company, for instance, is run by Mario Ruiz, who until recently was HuffPo’s head flack. Former Huffington Post social media editor Rob Fishman is running Kingfish Labs with the Lerers’s backing. Former Huffington Post CTO Paul Berry is running both Soho Tech Labs, a sandbox for super-early-stage start-ups, and Rebel Mouse, his own mysterious social media thingamabob that will launch in the next month or so. Etc.

All of which makes perfect sense, since Ken Lerer was a Huffington Post co-founder, and his partner, Eric Hippeau, was HuffPo’s CEO until AOL acquired the site a year ago.

Still, you wonder if AOL CEO Tim Armstrong considered the fact that some of the $315 million he spent on HuffPo last year would end up reinvested in start-ups populated by HuffPo employees — in the building that used that used to house HuffPo itself.

In any case, now that Lerer Ventures is a couple of years into this — they’ve raised $33 million so far, and have invested in 100 start-ups — it seems like a good time to check in on them.

Here’s a video interview with Hippeau and Ben Lerer, where they talk about their philosophy, portfolio and the possibility of raising yet another fund. (Extra features, free of charge: Something off-camera that seemed to occupy Lerer’s attention, as well as some bona fide New York City audio interference at the end.)

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/irin-k)

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus