Friendster gets $20 million, ex-Googler as CEO

It's long since passe in the United States, but the social network is surging in Asia, so it's hired an executive familiar with the territory and raised money to help continue expanding.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
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Updated at 7:24 a.m. PT on Tuesday with comment from Richard Kimber.

Brush off your Monty Python and the Holy Grail references: although long forgotten by social-media junkies in the United States, Friendster is not dead yet. The pioneering social network announced on Tuesday that it has raked in $20 million in venture funding led by IDG Ventures and has hired Richard Kimber as its new CEO.

Kimber was hired from Google, of all places, where he served as the regional managing director in Southeast Asia. That's key for Friendster, which has seen most of its recent growth in the Asia-Pacific region, to the point where it's now the No. 1 social network in countries such as Singapore, as well as the Asian leader overall, according to ComScore. Friendster has been translating the site into different Asian languages and focusing on growth there rather than trying to patch things up in the States.

He takes over from Kent Lindstrom, who will remain on Friendster's payroll after serving as CEO since early 2006. Founder Jonathan Abrams left amid the site's U.S. decline, and he now runs an invitation start-up called Socializr.

"Friendster is growing at an enormous rate in Asia-Pacific and is clearly leading the competition. I believe this is partly because the Internet is transforming the lives of everyone, and it will probably become one of the greatest liberators of our time," Kimber said in a statement that seemed tinged with mild political undertones. "I look forward to growing our business further, as we continue our global growth and strong focus on Asia."

Kimber insisted in an interview on Tuesday that he hadn't implied anything political. "It's more about the fact that the Internet enables...people to connect with people that they haven't been able to connect with," he explained. "I really do think social networking has a very important role to play alongside the access to information."

When it does come to dealing with governments that might not adhere to U.S. standards of free speech, Kimber said the company is well-prepared. "Like all social networks, we are very much in touch with all the government agencies and the like. We have a massive user base already, and we're very much on the forefront of how this whole industry evolves," he said. Referring to his experience at Google, he added, "I've had a lot of dialogue with regulators throughout the area."

Indeed, to fuel that growth, the company has raised $20 million. IDG Ventures was joined in the round by all of Friendster's previous investors: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures, and the Founders Fund (which also invested in Facebook). The last round of funding the company raised was $10 million just less than two years ago.

Kimber said the latest round will be used to hire more employees, specifically engineering talent, and opening more offices across the Asian continent. He named Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia as four countries where he'll have an executive presence.

Friendster has more than 75 million members to date. While many are still in the States, Kimber said the company will maintain its Asia-centric strategy and that any U.S. marketing will be targeted toward audiences with close ties to Asian countries.

"We're continuing to focus on the international component of the U.S. market: Americans that are interested in Asia and that have connections in Asia," he said. "We're going to pursue a segment strategy for the U.S. and then a much broader strategy in Asia."