WhaleShark raises $29 million, gobbles small fish
Austin company is positioning itself to become industry leader in online deals and coupons
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.’