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Tech Industry

Ask Jeeves tips hat to advice site with investment

Online advice site EXP.com will announce tomorrow that it has raised $33 million in third-round funding from a collection of investors including Ask Jeeves.

    Online advice site Exp.com will announce tomorrow that it has raised $33 million in third-round funding from a collection of investors including Ask Jeeves.

    The money will be used to fund operating expenses and a stepped-up marketing campaign, as well as to allow the company to branch into offering its services to corporate clients, company executives said.

    Also tomorrow, Exp.com will announce that it has signed a marketing deal with Ask Jeeves to advertise its services on the online answer site.

    "I think this round of funding and partnerships really helps pulls us ahead of other people," said Mark Benning, chief executive of Exp.com. "We raised a good chunk of money at a good valuation for us."

    Exp.com's funding also comes as the online advice market has begun to heat up. Benchmark Capital-backed Keen.com announced in January that it received $60 million in first-round funding from Integral Capital Partners, Microsoft and eBay. More recently, Keen.com announced a marketing deal with eBay that upset many eBay members, saying they thought it would draw buyers away from the auction site and provide them with questionable advice.

    Meanwhile, a slew of sites including Service911.com and Expertcity.com have cropped up to offer online technical support for computer users.

    Exp.com pairs consumers and executives with accounting, career counseling, legal and other experts. Unlike Keen.com, Exp.com offers to verify the credentials of its experts. The site pairs experts and members over the phone, via email and over an instant messaging system.

    Experts charge anywhere from 15 cents per minute to $750 per hour to offer their advice. Exp.com gets a 20 percent cut of what is charged.

    Benning said Exp.com still has about $15 million left over from its second round of funding last September. The additional funds should tide the company over until it reaches profitability by the end of next year, he said.

    The funding comes amid a market slump for e-commerce and Internet shares. Ask Jeeves, for instance, closed down 81 cents today to $17.94, nearing the company's 52-week low of $14 set last June. The company's president, Ted Briscoe, resigned last month with the stock down more than 80 percent for the year.

    Venture capitalists are also becoming more selective about which companies they fund. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that venture investors are shifting a greater percentage of their investments from e-commerce companies into infrastructure and services companies.

    At the same time, venture capitalists are putting a smaller share of their investments into late-stage funding, according to the National Venture Capital Association and Venture Economics.

    J. & W. Seligman led the funding round, followed by Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Bonaventure Capital's Treble Range Partners fund. Previous investors, such as Bessemer Venture Partners and CMGI @Ventures, also contributed to the funding.