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By Lizette Wilson

May sound strange during a recession, but expansion is in.

Expansion-stage companies—those nabbing a series B round or later—scored more than half of the $15 billion that venture capitalists doled out during the past six months, according to a study this month by VentureWire.

Biotech was the big winner (no shocker there), followed by Internet services, networking hardware, software and optical networking.

But the biggest news?

Sand Hill Road wasn’t the big spender. London-based 3i Group won the title (it did 32 financings), closely followed by Intel Capital, which did 21.

And what does Gordon Moore’s $2 billion-plus investment portfolio company favor most? Internet infrastructure and Internet content and services.

Drinks on the house

We understand Siebel Systems is doing well—well enough to invite strangers to join its private party at the schwanky 231 Ellsworth in San Mateo.

The chi chi joint (where oysters cost $2 a pop and $125 bottles of wine are listed at the beginning of the wine list) was the happy gathering spot for a cadre of Siebel employees and their significant others during a thank-you dinner last week.

An executive making a thank-you speech was stopped short by two outsiders trying to make their way past the audience into the bar.

“Join us! Drinks are on us. We’re worldwide,” said the Siebel exec. “We’re in customer relationship management after all.”

Pretty bold talk for the company that posted a net income of $67.5 million last quarter—about half the amount it reported during the same period last year. But, it is Christmas …

What’s in a name?

When it comes to branding, it’s all about the CEO.

A recent study by Liquid Agency, The Sausalito Group and Neale-May & Partners interviewed 700 marketing professionals and found that CEOs had the most power to shape the public’s perception of that company.

Despite the thumbsucker conclusion, (Who else if not the CEO? The research librarian?) the Bruised and Battered Brands Poll of 2001 did reveal some juicy tidbits:

  • Larry Ellison and Bill Gates showed up in both the top three list of CEOs who best personify their company brands and the top three list of those who most damaged or compromised their brands.
  • Michael Dell ranked as the No. 3 CEO who best personifies his company, Dell Computer.
  • Carly Fiorina was ranked as the CEO who did the most damage to her company’s brand, Hewlett-Packard.
  • Top companies that retained their brand, so ranked for increasing their stock value over the past 12 months ending Dec. 1, are Microsoft, IBM and Dell.
  • And companies that did the worst job? H-P, Compaq and Cisco.

Retailers ogle Google

So Google’s going commercial. The popular search company and brainchild of Larry Page and Sergey Brin has been the longest and fiercest holdout against pay-for-placement search, but now it’s tip-toeing toward commercializing its search results.

Based in Mountain View, Google recently announced a beta program whereby retailers (like Land’s End and Pottery Barn) can ultimately become paying customers. The service now allows users to search pages of mail-order catalogs—a complicated feature which required Google to scan catalog pictures through a picture recognition program and then convert the images to text.

Search engine pundits say it could be the first step toward expansion services (like advertising placement and direct linking to retailer’s checkout counters) which, Google has indicated it may adopt at a later date.

Considering Google’s advisers, it would make sense.

Its biggest bankrollers—Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital—have been patient about cashing in on their $25 million investment they made in June 1999. No IPOs, no forced mergers.

Pushing Google to boost revenues makes sense at any time, but particularly now, considering the dot-bombs populating much of the companies’ portfolios.