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February 02, 2005

Getting Rich Pre-IPO Style

Justin Hibbard

News flash: the online ad industry is on fire right now. (How about those fourth-quarter Google results?) In fact, the sector is so hot that it seems entrepreneurs can cash out of online ad startups and live large without even an IPO or acquisition. That's what happened recently at FastClick, an online ad network in Santa Barbara, Calif. The company filed to go public in December and will likely go out with a pop later this year. But even if it folds tomorrow, founders Jeff Pryor and David Gross are sitting pretty.

Three months before FastClick filed its S-1, the company closed a $75 million recapitalization financing led by VC firms Highland Capital Partners, Oak Investment Partners, and Steamboat Ventures (Disney's VC arm). About $55 million of that haul went toward buying 1.6 million FastClick shares directly from the founders, employees, and previous investors. Before the recap, the founders owned most of the company since FastClick had raised only $400,000 of VC since inception in 2000. Pryor and Gross walked away with $21.8 million and $10.4 million, respectively.

To lay people, a deal like that may seem unusual. We usually think of VCs as supplying money that embryonic startups use for growth. But FastClick is five years old, profitable, and already growing like mad. In the first nine months of last year, the company earned $3.3 million on $39 million in revenue (sales were up 111% from a year earlier). So, the new investors opted to buy additional shares of the fast-growing outfit even though 73% of their $75 million investment won't go toward building the business. These so-called secondary purchases happen often in late-stage VC investing -- but not at $35.19 a share!

If FastClick goes public or gets bought, Pryor's net worth will rise even higher since he still owns at least 5% of the company. Gross resigned as CEO last year, and we hope he's on an island somewhere.

04:45 PM

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