Esprit and Lastminute.com founder invest in Web 2.0 travel site

Esprit Capital Partner is leading a syndicate of angel investors including Brent Hoberman, the founder of Lastminute.com, in an investment in Where are you now?, the latest social network to attract venture backers.

Esprit Capital Partners, the venture team formed in the merger of Prelude Ventures and Cazenove Private Equity, is backing Lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman in an $11 million (€8.4 million) funding of Where Are You Now?, a travel and lifestyle social network.

Hoberman: serial travel site investor

The Series A syndicate led by Esprit includes Hoberman, who is joining as chairman in January next year, and other angel investors such as Adrian Critchlow and Andy Phillipps, co-founders of website Active Hotels, which sold to Priceline in 2004.

David Soskin, chief executive, and Hugo Burge, vice chairman, of Cheapflights, an online flight broker; and Constant Tedder, co-founder and managing director of Jagex, which runs RuneScape, the UK’s largest online multi-player game, are also participating.

Stuart Chapman, partner at Esprit Capital Partners is also joining the board.

The funding will be used to create new revenue streams, to expand the team, particularly in Poland where the back office operations are managed and to increase the range of online and offline products offered, including a tailored trip planner.

Based in London, Where are you now? is the world’s largest Web 2.0 travel community site, with a goal to unite travellers from around the world. Founded in 2002 by friends Pete Ward, Jerome Touze and Mike Lines, the site secured initial funding from Steve Pankhurst, founder of Friends Reunited in 2003.  

In the last 18 months, the site has grown exponentially from 45,000 users in March 2005 to 7 million today. It is increasing by up to 35,000 new members per day and is popular in 220 countries.
 
The site offers a free service for basic membership alongside a subscription model, as well as generating substantial revenues from advertising.
 
Social networking sites have taken off globally in the last year. To date, research shows that in the UK, the major social networks have well in excess of 20 million members.

At least 160 million people worldwide subscribe to networks such as MySpace, sold to News Corp, Friendster and Bebo, backed by Benchmark Capital.

Recent research by eMarketers said advertising spend on social networking sites is set to top $1.8 billion by 2010.