General Catalyst Lands Facebook Co-Founder to Help Create Next Generation of Web Media Startups

3/18/09Follow @bbuderi

As is often (too often) told in local innovation circles, Boston venture capitalists turned down funding Facebook, the company headed to Silicon Valley—and the rest is a sore spot in New England Internet VC history.

But now one of the three founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, is returning in a big way to the New England innovation scene. He will be joining General Catalyst Partners of Cambridge, MA, as an entrepreneur in residence. The Boston Globe‘s Rob Weisman has a story this morning, and I followed up for more with General Catalyst managing director Neil Sequeira, who says the company had not intended to publicize news of Hughes’ new role just yet—but that word came out when Hughes mentioned it at the recently ended South by Southwest conference in Austin.

The plan is that Hughes, now 25, will divide his time between Cambridge and New York—and will serve as a linchpin of General Catalyst’s efforts to partially shift the center of gravity for social networking and online media entrepreneurship from the West Coast to the East Coast. “That’s really meaningful to us, working with great young entrepreneurs and having them facilitate other young entrepreneurs and really building a great ecosystem around them,” Sequeira told me in a phone call this morning from Boston’s Logan airport.

Sequeira says that General Catalyst has tended to focus its Internet investments on media infrastructure companies like Brightcove, analytics firms like Visible Measures, or more consumer-facing companies like the travel site Kayak.com. “We’ve done a pretty good job, I think, in those areas,” he says. “And what we’ve found is the passion of entrepreneurs, especially in the Boston and New York areas, around those markets…gives the region a competitive advantage.”

Now, with big media and advertising companies in those cities under increasing pressure, General Catalyst wants to bring that entrepreneurial advantage to bear in those arenas as well. “When you have this incredible group of computer scientists coming out of places like Boston and New York, they can leverage all the disruption happening in those markets around media and advertising communities to build a great next generation of online new media businesses,” he says.

Hughes is key to General Catalyst’s plans to, well, catalyze those efforts. Hughes grew up in North Carolina, but attended Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, later rooming with Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz at Harvard University, according to the Globe. The three founded Facebook in 2004, soon moving it to Palo Alto, CA.

After spending three years at Facebook, Hughes became the driving force behind My.BarackObama.com, an online network that helped bring in more than $500 million and organize some 200,000 events around the country, the paper said.

The twin successes of Facebook and My.BarackObama.com, Sequeira says, “speak to his [Hughes'] agility as a person, and his ability to get young entrepreneurs really excited about starting something in what’s a pretty scary time. In reality, it’s a wonderful time to build a company if you have passion and big ideas.”

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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