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Capital buzz

By Thomas Heath
Monday, November 22, 2010; 2

A CELL PHONE PARTY LINE

Bethesda-based GroupFlier is launching a free mobile phone application today aimed at simplifying the process of group text messaging, essentially adding a "reply all" command to text services.

"We take an easy way to communicate one-to-one and make it a perfect way to organize a group, where everyone can see what everyone else is saying, making coordination easy," said GroupFlier chief executive Morris Panner, 47.

Panner, an entrepreneur, said he is making the GroupFlier Web site public today so anyone can sign up at www.groupflier.com.

Soon to come is an improvement that will allow group members to know where they are in geographic relation to each other.

The idea is to build a big enough community and then have the ability to advertise, sponsor groups, associations and others. Once the geo-location feature is included, GroupFlier plans to provide users very targeted information about events and associated deals.

Bethesda venture capital firm Novak Biddle funded Panner and his team earlier this year with $500,000 to pursue a series of ideas in the communication and geo-location field.

GroupFlier has five employees.

Panner sold his last company, business process software start-up OpenAir, in 2008 to NetSuite, Larry Ellison's on-demand software company. Sources put the sale price at around $31 million.

A MODEST PAYDAY?

General Motors chief executive Daniel F. Akerson's net worth didn't exactly skyrocket when GM stock went public last week. The former Carlyle Group managing director took over the top job in September. His only stock holding in the automaker was a grant of 8,183 salary stock units that will be converted into shares in annual installments beginning on Sept. 30, 2011. Those units are currently valued at $280,000 using last Thursday's closing stock price of $34.19.

Akerson is doing fine, however. His agreement with GM provides an annual cash base salary of $1.7 million and $5.3 million in stock, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also receives $2 million in restricted stock. His compensation had to be approved by a special government paymaster because GM was a recipient of funds under the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"It looks like his total pay will be around $9 million a year," said Aaron Boyd, head of research at Equilar, an executive compensation research firm.

THE BUZZ HEARS:

* VillageVines, the online company that offers $30 off your entire bill, including alcohol, at high-end restaurants, is pushing into the Washington market. The New York company, founded by a pair of Georgetown grads, has signed the Prime Rib, Bistro Bis, Sam & Harry's and Vidalia. There are no coupons; rather the discount is discreetly removed from the bill. Already VillageVines said it is driving $1 million of incremental revenue each month to restaurants in the District. Restaurants partner with VillageVines to fill a limited number of tables that they expect may otherwise go empty.

* Jon Bernthal, 34, son of Eric L. Bernthal, managing partner of Latham & Watkins's Washington office, is a star of "The Walking Dead," the new AMC series about humans vs. zombies. Jon Bernthal, raised in the District, studied theater in Moscow, where he also played professional baseball in the European professional baseball federation. The Sidwell Friends graduate has performed leading roles in two prime-time network series and has appeared in many movies, including "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (he played Al Capone) and Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer." He is currently filming "Rampart," a story about a Los Angeles police scandal, starring Woody Harrelson and Sigourney Weaver. He lives in Venice, Calif., with his dogs, Bogs and Venice. Both dogs (which are perfectly trained, sweet pit bulls) will make their movie debuts in "Rampart."

* FroZenYo, a self-serve frozen yogurt chainlet with stores at Metro Center, Columbia Heights and Friendship Heights, has signed a lease for a 1,400-square-foot Silver Spring store across from Whole Foods at 935 Ellsworth Dr. It opens in the spring. FroZenYo opens its Cleveland Park store across from the National Zoo on Dec. 10.

* Tammy Darvish, vice president of the Silver Spring-based Darcars Automotive Group, bought 800 shares of General Motors stock when it went public last week. GM employees and retirees, along with dealers, had the right to buy up to 800 shares of the new company at the initial price. Darvish, whose father John founded Darcars, one of the largest dealership groups in the country, said she bought "because I felt like it was something I could do to support GM. Let's face it, 800 shares of GM stock is not exactly a 401(k)."

* George Washington University student Stephen Pasinski, 19, won the undergraduate category in the "Business Plan Elevator Pitch Competition" at GWU's School of Business earlier this month. Pasinski's idea was Dog Drinks, flavored beverages for dogs that are also fortified with vitamins and minerals. The drinks would come in portable plastic bowls.

And what's Pasinski doing with his $2,000 first prize?

"First thing . . . buying some food cause my meal plan is out."

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