LivingSocial, based in D.C., raises $400 million as it vies with Groupon

LivingSocial, the District-based Web site that distributes daily deals for restaurants, spas and retail outlets, added $400 million to its coffers last week as investors continued to funnel money into the fast-growing company.

The latest funding round comes as the company continues to vie for market share with industry leader Groupon, based in Chicago, and broadens its deals to include real-time discounts and weekend getaways.

Investors said the latest round values LivingSocial at $3 billion, a significant climb from last summer, when the company took on money at a $200 million valuation. Amazon.com and Institutional Investors Fund are among the investors in the latest round.

Early investors in LivingSocial include former AOL mogul Steve Case, who invested through his holding company, known as Revolution Holdings, and Tysons Corner-based Grotech Ventures, which invested in the early “A” round.

Grotech general partner Don Rainey did not rule out the possibility of taking LivingSocial public, especially because the stock market had its best first quarter in 12 years this year.

“Going public is certainly a potential on the horizon,” Rainey said.

In addition to Case, LivingSocial’s founders, including chief executive Tim O’Shaughnessy, maintain a significant stake in the firm. O’Shaughnessy is the son-in-law of Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham. The Post also has a marketing partnership with the firm.

An initial public offering would bring the founders and others a significant windfall. Last summer, the company was valued at $200 million when several investors put in money. There have been at least two rounds since then, including December when Amazon invested $175 million.

A LivingSocial spokeswoman said the newest influx of capital will help the company expand.

“We’re really going to be using that to accelerate the aggressive growth we’ve got,” said spokeswoman Maire Griffin. “That means everything from domestic and international market expansion and also product innovation.”

LivingSocial’s primary revenue comes from taking a cut of each online coupon sold through its daily e-mails. Griffin said the company expects gross revenue of $1 billion this year and has been adding an average of 1.5 million e-mail subscribers each week.

To put that pace of growth into perspective, Griffin said the company counts 26 million subscribers today. In December, that number stood at about 12 million, and in December 2009, it was 300,000.

The company has leased its fourth office in the District, to house about 400 employees. The company has 1,300 staff members worldwide, about half of them based in Washington.

The company has also introduced several products in the past eight months, the most recent of which is LivingSocial Instant Deals. The service, which is being tested in the District, sends discounts in real time to consumers’ mobile devices.

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.
Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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