UK-Heavy Social Network Bebo Gets $15 Million Funding

You’re reading it here first: Bebo, an SF-based social networking site which is in the middle-ground between MySpace and Facebook, and among the biggest in UK, Ireland and New Zealand, has received $15 million in venture funding from Benchmark Capital.
Bebo will use the funding to expand the U.S. team and open a London office. It has also hired a chief privacy officer, who will be announced soon.
Bebo says it is also growing well in U.S. Australia and Canada. It has a total of 24 million registered members, turning 2.5 billion monthly page views. With the U.S. market awash with tons of social networking sites (MySpace and Friendster included), it probably makes sense to focus on UK and other markets.
The CEO, Michael Birch, who is a native Brit, is the founder of Jim Scheinman, the former head of biz dev at Friendster is now VP of biz dev at Bebo. I spoke to him briefly this weekend about the funding.
Bebo has been funded by the profits garnered through, and the site wasn’t really looking for money. But as the site grew, and the funding environment became better (and Benchmark’s contacts, especially in Europe), it made sense to take money at a healthy valuation (Jim wouldn’t disclose the valuation, but my sources tell me it is in the mid double-digit millions). Benchmark was also the co-investor in Friendster, and on the European side has two more successful examples in its portfolio: WeeWorld (which just got $15.5 million funding) and HabbaHotel (which got a whopping $23.5 million funding last year, including from Benchmark).
Bebo has been focused on colleges and schools but plans to slowly open-up to include general members as well. It has also moved beyond profiles and comments, and has tied up with Skype to integrate voice, and has recently enabled video uploads and live streaming.
A good background story on how and why Bebo grew in UK, is here in the Guardian: “Show and tell online“. It would be an interesting fight to see how the site maintains its lead as MySpace and others become more active in UK, and of course, whether Bebo is able to make any significant dent in the U.S. market.