Affinity Circles Deal Gives Climber.com Access to More Recruiting Tools

12/7/11Follow @bvbigelow

Mingle, a San Diego Internet holding company founded in 2005, says it’s expanding its online recruiting business, Climber.com, with the acquisition of Affinity Circles, a Sunnyvale, CA-based startup built around alumni organizations and other social networks.

While financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Mingle CEO Michael O’Brien sized the deal for me, saying Affinity Circles had five employees while Mingle now has about 40, following several years of explosive growth. “This is a neat deal for us,” O’Brien says. “It means we’ll probably hire another 20 to 30 people for Affinity Circles in 2012 if we hit all the necessary milestones.”

O’Brien’s move into online career services seems like a logical extension from his previous San Diego startup, financialaid.com, an online student loan services business he co-founded six years ago. Financialaid.com’s founders sold their business to San Diego’s Education Lending Group for $40 million in cash and stock in October, 2004. Three months later, the Education Lending Group was itself acquired for $381 million in cash by the CIT Group, a New York banking and financial services company.

But O’Brien says he didn’t plan to move immediately from student loans to career services. Rather, he says he first started Mingle—and Climber.com was one of its first products. O’Brien says he also put two other Internet companies under the Mingle banner, a student loan business and a natural language search tool, but neither survived. “Our original business plan focused on a single customer acquisition cost with multiple products to cross-sell. Thus, the mingling of businesses,” O’Brien says.

He adds that Mingle has been “operationally profitable” since 2010, after raising about $3 million from friends, family, and a few high net-worth individuals. “Most of these people had made money from the financialaid.com exit,” O’Brien says. Following the Affinity Circles acquisition, which closed on November 18, Mingle how holds four Web-based businesses that are more or less targeting the same group of customers—Climber.com, Searchforjobs.com, Affinity Circles, and Leadli.com.

Affinity Circles, known previously as Affinity Engines, was founded in 2002 as a way for Stanford University graduates to stay in touch with their friends. It soon became a private and secure online social network. Today, more than 80 alumni and student groups, professional associations and sports teams are using Affinity’s platform, enabling their respective members to maintain their personal and professional ties. The company’s list of customers includes alumni groups affiliated with the University of Michigan and Harvey Mudd College, as well as the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Asia America Multi-Technology Association (a professional trade group).

“It enables us to quickly have access to another 4.4 million users,” O’Brien says, explaining that recruiters hired to fill high-paying professional job vacancies often search for prospective candidates by using old school ties and the alumni networks of well-known colleges and universities.

Climber.com says it already was reaching 6 million professionals—matching their skills and interests with its network of more than 400,000 recruiters looking to fill job vacancies throughout the United States. Climber.com says its subscribers also can access tens of thousands of job opportunities from “top-tier companies” through its website.

Climber.com says its $40-per-month service offers subscribers assessment tests to help them better understand their skills and interests. The service also enables users to send their resumes to recruiters, search candidate listings, and create a “personal brand” optimized for search engine technologies to help recruiters find potential job candidates on Climber.com.

Climber.com also offers users a way to use Twitter and other social networking sites to connect with recruiters and hiring managers.

The Affinity Circles deal could offer Climber.com a way to quickly expand its use of other social media networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook—a practice that once seemed nearly taboo. Today, O’Brien says 40 percent of the clicks on Affinity Circles are related to job searches, and a spokeswoman for Mingle says Climber.com has seen posts from recruiters on social networks more than triple this year.

In the meantime, Climber.com faces competition from a variety of rivals, including Monster Worldwide of Maynard, MA, and TheLadders.com, an online job search service based in New York. The San Diego startup will have to climb pretty fast to keep up.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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