Peter Thiel gambles on the next internet hit – Israel’s Hooja

hooja logoPeter Thiel knows a thing or two about consumer internet. After all, he’s a PayPal cofounder, one of Facebook’s board members and its first investor ($500,000) way before its $15 billion valuation, giving him a hefty return of a billion. Thiel is known as a savvy investor with a ‘golden touch’ that tends to invest small amounts early on taking a ‘hands-off’ approach with management (learn more about his investment strategy in Thiel’s recent WSJ profile).

Apart from Facebook, Thiel invested in some of the internet’s biggest brand names early on, including: Yelp, Slide, LinkedIn and Friendster.These days, Peter Thiel is managing the hedge fund Clarium Capital, which manages $2 billion under management and he’s also a partner in the Founders Fund, that recently raised $220 million for its second fund. Now, for the first time, Thiel is betting an Israeli tech startup, to be the next winner.

Globes reports that Thiel, along with a group of private investors, raised $1.5 million for Hooja, an Israel-based startup founded in April of 2006 by Naama Moran, a former Greylock Partners associate. Hooja is still operating in stealth mode (landing page only) but its known to be developing a unique search technology that enables content providers to search for personal and social information in the deep web, including social networks. One of Hooja’s investors describes the technology as ‘social search’ – basically providing higher ranking to information that a user’s friends are likely to click on.

From Hooja’s ivc profile:
Hooja provides a converged technology platform to enable interactivity between digital screens, the web and mobile devices. The company is focused on creating innovative tools for interactive content and advertising, that encourage customers’ feedback and participation, by using their cell phones as a remote control and input device. The HoojaSpots platform gives a turnkey solution to create interactive campaigns on out-of-home digital displays and mobile phones.

UPDATE: Since the publicly available information on Hooja was obsolete and no where to be found, I went straight to the source.  Below is a short Q&A with Hooja’s founder Na’ama Moran. As a side note, Hooja wishes to remain in stealth for now, so Na’ama kept it short this time:

VC Cafe: There’s a lot of ambiguity about Hooja online. So, in simple words and without giving the farm – what is Hooja?
NM: Hooja enables you to search in your personal and social information from both a browser and a mobile phone

VC Cafe: How did your background is Venture Capital influence the money raising process?
NM: I didn’t work at Greylock the VC, but the NY-based hedge fund (Greylock Capital Management). It was very useful though.

VC Cafe: Given that the service is given for free, what is Hooja’s business model?
NM: Advertisements, licensing deals

In addition to Peter Thiel, Naama was able to attract a few other high-profile investors:

  • Yuval Shachar, an Israeli serial entrepreneur that sold P-Cube, Pentacom and InfoGear to Cisco for several hundred millions
  • Mike Maples, founder of Motive and one of the investors behind Digg and twitter
  • Moran Bar Kochva, partner at Unison Capital Partners
  • Pascal Levinson, managing partner at Levinson Venture Patners

Hooja plans to use the proceeds to set up an R&D center in Israel and these days Naama Moran is working on recruiting local talent in Israel, including NLP (Natural Language Processing) engineers, which provides a hint regarding Hooja’s semantic search plans.

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Eze Vidra

General Partner, Google Ventures at Google
Eze is a General Partner at Google Ventures Europe. Before joining GV, Eze started Campus London, Google's first physical hub for startups, and led Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. He's an experienced product manager and startup mentor. In 2012 Eze founded Techbikers, a non-for profit supporting children education in developing countries.
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