WAYN secures $11 million

Where Are You Now? (WAYN) has raised $11 million in Series A funding from a syndicate of investors led by Esprit Capital Partners.

Joining Esprit in the funding round as angel investors is a raft of industry heavyweights, including Brent Hoberman, co-founder of lastminute.com; Adrian Critchlow and Andy Phillipps, co-founders of Active Hotels, sold to Priceline in 2004; David Soskin, CEO, and Hugo Burge, Vice Chairman, of Cheapflights; and Constant Tedder, co-founder and Managing Director of Jagex Ltd, which runs RuneScape, the UK’s largest online multi-player game.

Brent Hoberman will join WAYN’s Board as Chairman in January 2007. Brent successfully took lastminute.com public in 2000, which led to its sale to Travelocity last year for £577 million ($1.07 billion). Stuart Chapman, Partner at Esprit Capital Partners also joins the Board.

The funding will be used to create new revenue streams, expand the team - particularly in Poland where WAYN’s back office operations are managed; enlarge the geographical base of the company and increase the range of online and offline products offered, including a tailored trip planner; expand the ability to share experiences with others using rich media content; and provide exclusive travel and lifestyle benefits to its members. WAYN will also be upgrading its IT infrastructure to help ensure that it is able to support its fast growing active membership base.

Based in London, WAYN 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, WAYN secured initial funding from Steve Pankhurst, founder of Friends Reunited in 2003. 

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As with many social networking sites, WAYN enables its users to customise their profile and upload photos. Users can search for others and link them to their profile as friends. WAYN also allows its members to keep friends and family informed of where they are, when they are travelling and where they are going next. Members can share their experiences with others by adding their favourite places and sharing tips on where to stay and things to do.

In the last 18 months, growth has been exponential. Membership has grown from 45,000 users in March 2005 to 7 million today, and is increasing by up to 35,000 new members per day. The geographical spread is also vast; WAYN is popular in 220 countries and has become a truly global brand. A free service for basic membership, WAYN also runs a successful subscription model as well as generating substantial revenues from advertising.

Peter Ward, Co-founding Director of WAYN commented, “Back in 2002 we recognised the huge potential for a travel community network. Travel captures the imagination and meeting people from different places is something that most of us really enjoy doing.

We’re so excited to be working with some of the most respected leaders in their fields. Each investor brings something different and their input in the next phase of our growth will be invaluable.”

Brent Hoberman said, “WAYN is a flagship example of the next generation of internet companies with global potential born out of the UK.  The innovative customer proposition, which enables members to interact with others, based on the places they have been or plan to visit in the future, has proved to be extremely popular.  By sharing tips and introductions with likeminded travellers, WAYN members can get more out of their leisure time.  The WAYN brand has massive growth potential and I am delighted to be involved.” 

Stuart Chapman of Esprit added, “We believe WAYN is one of the most exciting Web 2.0 companies in the world today and are delighted to be able to bring such a high calibre team of investors to the table. This team offers WAYN so much more than investment and will help it become the first in the next generation of profitable social networks. We are very happy to be backing this team and look forward to actively working with them.”

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, Friendster and Bebo.  Furthermore, recent research by eMarketers has revealed that advertising spend on social networking sites is set to top $1.8 billion by 2010.
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