Capital Buzz: A hockey game, an introduction, and an investment

January 22, 2012

Think having an owner’s box is all fun and games?

Occasionally, some business gets done, too. Ted Leonsis said he and fellow entrepreneur Steve Case were at a hockey game when they initially heard about the company they would eventually invest in as part of their new $450 million Revolution Growth fund.

Leonsis, who owns the Washington Capitals and Wizards along with their home, the Verizon Center, said a guest urged him to check out Ali Saadat and his Vienna company FedBid a few years ago while attending one of the Capitals’ Military Nights, where the team honors veterans.

Leonsis said he Googled Saadat, read about FedBid, which runs an online marketplace, “and just kind of stored it away in the back of my head as an executive I’d like to meet one day.”

Lynda Clarizio, a former AOL executive who was consulting for FedBid, eventually made the introduction. Leonsis and Saadat talked about a potential collaboration between FedBid and Revolution Money, a Case/Leonsis company that was sold for a handsome profit to American Express a couple of years back.

The conversation failed to lead to anything at first. But in June of last year, as Case and Leonsis were finalizing the funding for Revolution Growth, Leonsis lobbed an e-mail and phone call to Saadat to see if he was interested in chatting.

He was.

“And that’s how this became our first investment,” Leonsis said.

Window shopping

Hilton Hotels & Resorts Christopher J. Nassetta, president and chief executive of Hilton Worldwide, and a longtime native of the area, told a group of Washington Post editors and reporters recently that the iconic Capital Hilton, ensconced for decades at the corner of 16th and K streets NW, could be ready for a retail makeover.

The hotel, which is freshening up its 544 rooms, lobby and restaurants, is looking to bring a bit of bustle back to K Street.

The Hilton’s ground-floor storefronts once were home to a row of major airline offices, back in the day when people bought their tickets in person rather than online or over the phone. The shops have since made way for a health club, and the glamour of airlines has given way to treadmills.

“Our goal has been to maintain the historic legacy of the property, while modernizing the experience we offer our guests throughout the hotel,” he said.

The Buzz hears:

*Boston-based Rue La La — the high-end, invitation-only Web site for boutique shoppers — let go the three-person staff at its D.C. office less than a year after it opened, part of a larger, company-wide restructuring, according to one former employee.

“They decided to outsource D.C. sales to another company,” said Jennifer Parks, the brand partner manager who was one of those dismissed. There will still be D.C. deals on Rue La La, but the D.C. sales will be run by Bloomspot, she said.

*Falls Church-based Educational Options, a privately held company providing online courseware to school districts around the country, closed shop on Jan. 20, with between 50 and 75 losing their jobs.

The company was profitable under chief executive Thomas Sawner, who died in 2010, leaving Educational Options in the hands of his widow, Bettina Callaway.

Callaway sold the company to Minneapolis- based Plato Learning in November, and now the Falls Church location is closing.

“The decision was made to shut down most divisions of EdOptions, including curriculum development and the entire Falls Church headquarters,” said former Educational Options employee Kenneth Mayer.

Plato did not return phone and e-mail messages.

*Vienna-based Feld Entertainment won in court against animal rights activists who want to outlaw the company’s use of elephants in its circus.

A three-judge federal appeals court in D.C. unanimously reaffirmed a 2009 trial judgment in favor of Feld, which owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

“We expect to begin pursuing our attorneys fees, which are in excess of $20 million over the more than 11 years we have defended this case,” said John Simpson of Fulbright & Jaworski, which is counsel to Feld Entertainment.

The defendants include the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Animal Welfare Institute.

*Entrepreneur David Von Storchis to open his fifth Vida Fitness location Tuesday at 445 K St. NW in the City Vista, finishing a $500,000 upgrade of a former gym. Three more Vidas are planned in the region by 2015.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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