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Stanford startup lands funding from social networking giant

CafeBots, a Palo Alto startup founded by a group with Stanford connections, recently received initial funding of $5 million from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

The investment is the first for KPCB’s sFund, a $250 million fund dedicated to social technology and networking ventures. KPCB created this fund in partnership with a trio of successful Silicon Valley companies–Amazon, Facebook and Zynga–before naming CafeBots as its first recipient on Oct. 21.

CafeBots was founded by Michael Munie M.S. ’08, now a doctoral student, Thuc Vu M.S. ’09 Ph.D. ’10 and Stanford computer science professor Yoav Shoham. Shoham is the CEO of the company. Though still in development, CafeBots is focusing on what it calls “friendship relationship management,” which will let clients look for information and contacts within their social worlds.

According to Munie, the idea for CafeBots started with some brief conversations that quickly turned into many late-night brainstorming sessions and an eventual collaboration with Bing Gordon MBA ’78, a partner at KPCB as well as a board member of Amazon, Zynga and Ngmoco.

“At the beginning, me, Thuc and Yoav decided that we wanted to work with the best VC and we quickly focused in on Kleiner Perkins and Bing Gordon,” Munie wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Bing has this incredible ability to understand advanced algorithms while at the same time getting to level 70 on FarmVille.”

“Social is the new search,” Shoham recently told NBC Bay Area News. “Kleiner’s new sFund will be a great launch pad for companies like ours that want to bring groundbreaking innovation to the social media space.”

KPCB has had a history of spotting successful innovation. In 2008, it announced the debut of its iFund, a $100 venture capital initiative that funds the development of iPhone and iPod applications. Applications funded by this initiative include shopkick, ngmoco, Booyah and Shazam.

Munie and Vu attribute part of their success to the collaborative spirit of Stanford.

“A startup is a big change from school, but there’s something entrepreneurial in the air at Stanford that has this irresistible draw,” Munie said. “I loved school, but I love coming in to work even more.”

“We’re proud to follow a great tradition, including Larry and Sergey, David and Jerry, and many others before them,” Vu wrote in an e-mail to The Daily, referring to Google, Yahoo and other companies. “[Right now] we’re just busy working, and there’s not much to say until we release a product. It has been very fun and exciting at CafeBots. One of the best parts is to work with very smart people here. I hope we’ll be adding more Stanford people before too long.”

Contact Henry Zhu at hz2014@stanford.edu.

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