District-based SocialRadar, the creators of an application that helps identify the people around you in social settings, has raised $12.75 million from a bevy of local investors, executives announced today.
The months-old company, which was founded by former Blackboard chief executive Michael Chasen, pairs the location technology built into smartphones and other portable devices with the information in online profiles to identify people around you and your possible connections to them.
A beta version of the application will be available for the iPhone later this summer, Chasen said, followed by applications for Android devices and Glass, Google’s computerized eyewear.
SocialRadar counts 10 full-time employees to date in the same 19th Street NW building where Chasen said, coincidentally, Blackboard had its first official office space more than a decade ago.
Chasen co-founded Blackboard in a D.C. rowhouse in 1997 and took the firm public seven years later. He left the education technology company late last year after selling it to Providence Equity Partners in 2011 for $1.64 billion
SocialRadar’s inaugural funding comes from a slate of the region’s most prominent investors, led by New Enterprise Associates, Grotech Ventures and SWaN & Legend Ventures.
An extensive list of local angel investors also contributed to the round, including Steve Case and Ted Leonsis of Revolution, Venturehouse Group chief executive Mark Ein, Novak Biddle Venture Partners co-founders Roger Novak and Jack Biddle and EverFi chief executive Tom Davidson, among others.
Chasen spoke with Capital Business about the impetus for the new venture and its initial investment. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
How did the idea for SocialRadar come about?
“I always found it weird you have so many people walking around with location beacons, have all their user profile information online, and yet I walk into a restaurant or a meeting or conference and don’t know anything about the people around me.
“This is technology we want everybody to have. I believe this technology is going to be commonplace [and] built into your smartphone 10 years into the future, the way that map navigation systems are common for a car to have.”
Why shift from an enterprise software company like Blackboard to a consumer-oriented upstart?
“Even though we were an enterprise software company, we sort of considered ourselves to be a consumer play [at Blackboard]. Even though we were selling it to the school, we had 30 million students and teachers using our technology.”
How will SocialRadar make money?
“We think there’s a lot of different ways for us to turn this into a pretty sizeable and significant business. Obviously if people are sharing location information there’s a lot of commerce opportunities we can pursue, but the goal now is to get the technology into as many hands as possible.”
Most first-round fundings aren’t this large. Why raise so much money?
“A few years ago people weren’t sharing their location information like they are today. Even now we’re not at the tipping point, but we’re almost there. It’s becoming more and more common and accepted and it’s growing at an exponential rate.
“We think this a huge opportunity and big technical problem to solve and we wanted to make sure we were funded to be able to go after it in the right way and for the long haul.”
What’s it like for you to be back at the earliest stage of a company?
“One of the things I didn’t enjoy as Blackboard got bigger is I got further away from the people developing the product and the people selling the product. Those were the things I used to love. I was always a hands-on founder/CEO. But as the company got bigger my priorities had to change and evolve.
“I’m getting an unusually high degree of pleasure being hands on with the product again and speaking with consumers who are helping us design it.. . . [People asked me,] ‘Why didn’t you go into entrepreneur-in-residence or join VC firms or private equity firms?’ I could never imagine anything else other than building a company. I knew I wanted to do it again if I had the opportunity.”
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