Kara Swisher

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The Science of Investing: Hearst’s New Venture Arm in $30 Million Funding Deal With Los Angeles Tech Studio


Hearst Ventures, the investment arm of media giant Hearst Corporation, said it was making a minority equity investment in Science, the Los Angeles area tech “studio.”

Privately held Hearst is the sole investor in the new funding, although the company declined to reveal financial terms of the investment.

But sources with awareness of the deal said it was close to $30 million for a stake above 20 percent.

Somewhat akin to a startup accelerator, Science is attempting to quickly create and scale a number of promising companies in a variety of areas, and has launched 13 so far.

Among the Santa Monica, Calif., tech studio’s recent efforts: Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based products company aimed at men; Ellie, which sells high-end activewear for women; and Wittlebee, a clothes club for kids.

Hearst Ventures is operated by Hearst’s Entertainment and Syndication unit, which is run by Scott Sassa and George Kliavkoff. Kliavkoff will join Science’s board of directors.

“It’s clear to us that, while we have these brands that resonate with consumers, we think there are some learnings we can get from these guys that are hard to get in a big company,” said Sassa. “Being able to be nimble with insight and guidance is important for us.”

Kliavkoff also noted that this was a way to get immediate ownership in a range of promising companies. “We are writing one check and will have an immediate stake in more than a dozen great startups,” he said. “[Science] has been very thoughtful in starting companies in smart areas.”

In a statement, Hearst CEO Frank Bennack said: “Hearst is continually looking for smart investments that bring value and intelligence to the company — our investment in Science does both. We’re excited to partner with Science to continue its trajectory of success, gain meaningful industry knowledge and utilize Science’s platforms for current and future Hearst investments.”

Though quieter than most, Hearst Ventures have made many successful investments over 15 years, including in Netscape and Broadcast.com. More recently, it has funded such companies as Brightcove and Pandora, as well as HootSuite and BuzzFeed.

Science was founded in late 2011 — with $10 million funding from big-name investors including Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s Tomorrow Ventures, Rustic Canyon Partners and White Star Capital. Its CEO is well-regarded entrepreneur Mike Jones, who was most recently CEO of Myspace. Prior to Myspace, he had started and sold Userplane to AOL in 2006. In addition, well-known entrepreneur Peter Pham is chief business officer at Science.

“I am very proud of work that the Science team has accomplished since launching,” said Jones, in a quick interview tonight (short enough so that his wife would not get angry at me for ruining Valentine’s Day). “I am extremely excited about opportunities for Science companies going forward.”

More to come, but here is the very clever viral video that Dollar Shave Club did on its launch:

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”