Fresh Capital

Eric Hippeau on Lerer Ventures’ New Hires and Why BuzzFeed Promises ‘VC-Like Returns’

It's official. No one really knows how to define a native ad.
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Mr. Hippeau. (Photo: David Yellen via Ad Age)

When we last spoke with Eric Hippeau, the Huffington Post mafioso was discussing Lerer Ventures’ new $36 million fund. Today, the early-stage investment firm is announcing two new hires to help it manage and grow its considerable portfolio.

Max Stoller, a recent NYU graduate whose hackathon apps we’ve covered in the past, will be joining Lerer Ventures as an analyst. Mr. Stoller, a HackNY veteran, worked as an engineer at Hyperpublic–a company founded by LV managing director Jordan Cooper and sold to Groupon–as well as on the platform team at Foursquare, both while in school. And, yes, if that makes you  wonder, you probably did college wrong.

LV also brought on Nicola Korzenko as portfolio support manager before the holidays, coordinating help for LV’s startups. Ms. Korzenko previously worked at Signpost, which is backed by Google Ventures and Spark Capital, and Creative Artists Agency.

“Max is someone that we’ve known for quite a while, and he’s well known in New York,” Mr. Hippeau told Betabeat when we mentioned running into him at a hackathon or two. “His job is outreach into the marketplace to make sure that we know all the budding entrepreneurs, specifically the younger ones–that they know who we are, that we understand what people are doing,” he added. Mr. Stoller will focus on the emerging entrepreneurs coming out of school or doing hackathons. “He knows the young people to know much better than we do,” Mr. Hippeau added.

LV began investing the new fund in October and has made about eight different commitments thus far, Mr. Hippeau said. Not all of those are public, but the firm grabbed headlines last week when it participated in a $19.3 million Series D for BuzzFeed only a year after investing in BuzzFeed’s $15.5 million Series C.

BuzzFeed reportedly expected to bring in $20 million in revenue last year. So was there any truth to the rumor that investors expect them to triple that in 2013? “Oh my God, no! I don’t think anybody expects it to triple,” Mr. Hippeau said. “That would be pressure!” He wouldn’t confirm the $20 million figure, but said investors do “expect them to be on a strong growth path, which they are.”

Naturally, the path Mr. Hippeau was referring to is paved with that new media cure-all: social advertising. “As you know, [BuzzFeed has] always turned back any kind of monetization that relies on banner or traditional display. They had plenty of opportunities to sell a lot of that. Now they found a model which scales, which is attractive to large brands, and they’re just at the very beginning of trying to take advantage of that,” he said.

Do BuzzFeed’s sponsored stories count as “native advertising?” we asked. “I never quite understood the definition of native advertising,” Mr. Hippeau admitted. But the reason social ads are extremely attractive to brand marketers, he explained, is because it mimics the same narrative opportunity they have in TV advertising. “The reason why there’s still a lot of advertising on television, even though the audience has moved on, is because it’s still one of the few mediums where advertisers can tell a story. They try to grab you emotionally, they try to make it funny. That’s not something you can do in display.” Tumblr’s revenue consultant Rick Webb recently drew a similar comparison between TV advertising that can still delight you and native ads.

And what about reports that investors are expecting BuzzFeed, which has raised a total of $46.3 million, to sell for at least $300 million, but ideally closer to $600 million? “I never put a price expectation on our companies. That sounds like a crazy analyst,” Mr. Hippeau said. “Look, what you’re trying to do is build a scalable, reliable business, and if you can do that, which is tough, then when the time is right, when it’s time for the company to go public or be sold, then the right thing is going to get done. Then people understand the value that’s being built, and the fair value will be made at the time. What that value is, you can’t tell today.”

Mr. Hippeau said LV opted to invest in BuzzFeed again so soon for a number of reasons. “It’s a combination of how excited we are about the company and how confident we are that the company is on the right path. And how confident that the last money we put in is going to get a VC-like return.” Whether a “VC-like return” is closer to 5x or 10x, he didn’t say.

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