Ex-Sun CEO McNealy dives into social media with old friends

SAN FRANCISCO Thu Mar 1, 2012 5:20pm EST

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Wayin, the new social media venture backed by Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy, announced it has raised $14 million in Series B funding from U.S. Venture Partners.

If there's an element of déjà vu to the news, it's because the funding round closed almost 30 years to the day after McNealy founded Sun, in 1982, with U.S.V.P. as its first major investor.

A nostalgic McNealy, who serves as chairman of Wayin's board, told a gathering of investors celebrating the news at his Portola Valley, Calif. home last week that the U.S.V.P. investment felt like "we're closing the band".

Wayin, which provides social media content on "second screens" - tablets and smartphones - to accompany simultaneous television programming, represents a foray into wholly new territory for McNealy, who steered Sun's evolution into an enterprise computing behemoth as one of Silicon Valley's most enduring and colorful CEOs. He stepped down in 2006; Oracle ORCL.O bought Sun four years later, in 2010.

McNealy's new startup is competing in a hot emerging market that has intrigued advertisers and media companies alike as they explore the potential for soliciting instant feedback from consumers during live programming. Facebook, for example, has a "Questions" app, and many traditional media companies are internally developing standalone apps for tablets.

If in the past TV market researchers surveyed audiences for size and demographics, then "the next level is intent", McNealy said. For instance, a second-screen app could ask a viewer watching a golf tournament if he intended to purchase new golf clubs this year.

Wayin CEO Tom Jessiman, who is based in Denver, acknowledged that the startup's greatest advantage - and also perhaps a potential weakness - is its extraordinary dependence on McNealy and his vast personal network. McNealy, 57, has used his connections to the upper echelons of the PGA Tour and the Washington Capitals hockey team to strike content partnerships.

On the board is his friend and Hollywood producer Burt Sugarman, as well as Larry Sonsini, the renowned Silicon Valley securities lawyer with whom he has longstanding ties.

In December, Frank Luntz, the conservative political communications consultant and frequent Fox News contributor, touted Wayin's potential for measuring viewers' political sentiment on the Sean Hannity Show following a primary debate. McNealy, a longtime Republican, said the company has collaborated with Republican candidates, given the focus of the national primaries -- both the campaigns for Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have signed on to use the app -- but the company hopes to woo Democratic congressional candidates during this cycle as well.

(Reporting By Gerry Shih; Editing by Will Waterman)

(Corrects name of team in paragraph 7 to Washington Capitals instead of San Jose Sharks)

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