WhaleShark raises $29 mil­lion, gob­bles small fish

Austin com­pany is po­si­tion­ing it­self to be­come in­dus­try leader in on­line deals and coupons

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS & PERSONAL FINANCE - By Brian Gaar

Austin-based WhaleShark Me­dia, an on­line deals and coupon pur­veyor that’s been op­er­at­ing qui­etly for sev­eral months, has raised at least $29 mil­lion from Austin Ven­tures and other in­vestors.

Led by for­mer Bankrate Inc. ex­ec­u­tive Cot­ter Cunningham, the com­pany de­buted last year and has pur­chased a num­ber of deal and coupon sites — a strat­egy sim­i­lar to that of Austin­based Home­Away Inc., which has be­come the lead­ing web­site for vacation rental homes by buy­ing smaller sites.

“We’re cer­tainly plan­ning to win,” said Austin Ven­tures part­ner Tom Ball, who will serve on WhaleShark’s board. “If that means be­ing the largest … that would be a great out­come for us.”

The pur­chased sites in­clude Deal­s2Buy. com, CouponSeven.com, CouponShare.com and CheapSt­ingyBar­gains.com. Most re­cently, Deals.com was pur­chased, largely for its do­main name, Cunningham said.

Cunningham first started work­ing with Aus- tin Ven­tures af­ter he left Bankrate in 2007. He took an in­vest­ment with Austin Ven­tures to start Divorce360.com, a re­source site for peo­ple go­ing through di­vorces.

The site “wasn’t a huge fi­nan­cial suc­cess,” Cunningham said, but he con­tin­ued to work

with Austin Ven­tures, and they started look­ing at the coupon and deal space early last year. Cunningham called that area “huge.”

“Would you bet against In­ter­net shop­ping grow­ing right now?” he said. “I would not.”

Ball said his firm con­vinced Cunningham to move to Austin from Florida, say­ing “we liked work­ing with him and thought we could do some­thing big­ger with him.”

Ball has his own his­tory in the on­line coupon field: He started eCoupons.com in 1999 be­fore sell­ing it a year later. He has tracked the space since then as on­line buy­ing has grown.

“This is just a part of ev­ery­day life now, for a lot of peo­ple,” Ball said.

The com­pany is cur­rently op­er­at­ing as WhaleShark, but Ball called Deals.com a “great name” and said he could see a switch in the fu­ture. WhaleShark has also as­sem­bled a man­age­ment team that in­cludes for­mer Home­Away ex­ec­u­tive Justin Hal­lo­ran and John Faith, a for­mer vice pres­i­dent of MyS­pace Mo­bile.

The com­pany has about 25 em­ploy­ees in Austin. Cunningham said his com­pany con­tin­ues to tar­get more sites for pos­si­ble ex­pan­sion.

“We think there’s an op­por­tu­nity for us to serve the pub­lic well and serve our mer­chant part­ners well,” Cunningham said. “If we do that, we’ll be happy with the out­come.”

Cot­ter Cunningham ‘Would you bet against In­ter­net shop­ping grow­ing right now?’ asks WhaleShark ex­ec­u­tive. ‘I would not.’

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