Live code (+ beer) at SXSW

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NYC has many awesome startups, but 10gen — ie MongoDB — gets a special place in my heart for being the geekiest.

It’s an open-source NoSQL database that powers many of the biggest Web 2.0 services, including Foursquare, which has its 1 billion+ check-ins logged in MongoDB software. 4sq has one of the splashiest deployments, but it’s not the biggest. That title might go to Shutterfly, which has some 10 billion records stored. 

At SecondMarket’s #SMAustin series, 10gen’s Nosh Petigara, the company’s chief strategy director, broke out the live code to demo location app building on the fly. Afterward, I chatted with him about the company’s growth: When he joined two years ago, 10gen had six people. Now it’s up to 100 — half in NYC, 40 in the Bay Area, and the rest scattered. And they’re hiring across the board.

Want to learn more about MongoDB? Stop by the company’s weekly open office hours/hack sessions. -Stacy

Private company stock: Who’s hot and who’s not

The folks over at SecondMarket released their Q2 report today, detailing the crazy world of trading stock in companies that haven’t gone public yet.

SecondMarket launched in April 2009, spurred by the fact that few tech companies had gone public — leaving employees and early investors holding stock that was essentially illiquid, unless they could arrange a private sale to an interested buyer. 

Now, however, the frozen tech IPO market has been thawing. And other companies are going the buyout route.

Obviously, that’s shaking up the stats for those left in the private market. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The top 10 most watched companies on SecondMarket is not exactly a shocking list but, as we’ll discuss, there are some issues with a few of these:

1. Facebook

2. Twitter

3. Groupon

4. Zynga

5. Foursquare

6. Skype

7. Yelp

8. Dropbox

9. Gilt Groupe

10. LivingSocial

Verrrry interesting (I would run my fingers through my beard here if I had one); nearly a third of these top ten are out of the game now.

Our No. 3, Groupon, filed for an IPO last month. Zynga, the cleanup hitter, followed suit a few weeks later. Sixth man Skype announced in May that Microsoft will buy it for $8.5 billion.

I asked SecondMarket who came in at No. 11 and would have cracked the top ten list if Skype had been removed. Funny enough, it’s another company in play for a buyout: red-hot Hulu.

Further mucking the top ten list for last quarter: two completed IPOs. LinkedIn and Pandora emerged in the public arena in Q2, freeing up space for Dropbox and LivingSocial to make the most-watched list.

It’s been interesting to watch how a looser IPO and buyout market has affected SecondMarket. With fewer private companies and less pent-up demand on the buyside, SecondMarket’s transaction totals in the sector have declined.

In Q4, transactions doubled to $158 million. But then they slipped to $156 million in Q1 (the company revised the originally reported figure much higher in Tuesday’s report), and fell to $112 million this past quarter.

Still, as the big names leave private markets for potentially greener pastures, of course some new hotshots are rising in the ranks. SecondMarket’s “rising stars” list for Q2 is, in order: Kickstarter, PopCap, SharesPost (a SecondMarket competitor! meta!), LegalZoom and Lending Club.

But there’s trouble with this list, too: PopCap was snapped up by Electronic Arts this month. And so the tech world turns. —Julianne

SecondMarket’s new look: social + $

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SecondMarket has been walking a tricky line building its private-stock marketplace: The rich, accredited investors who can actually buy stock through the market are a very small and select bunch, but interest is rampant in companies like Facebook and Twitter. That’s great for SecondMarket’s brand — but it can’t disclose much about what actually happens in its marketplace without incurring regulatory wrath.

On Friday, SecondMarket took the wraps off an update that aims to bridge the gap. I got a demo at SXSW.

The site now functions more like a social network for investors (and startup employees with shares they might someday want to sell to those investors). It’s Facebook meets Yahoo Finance meets a giant Hoovers-like back-end database of corporate information.

The back-end is SecondMarket’s secret sauce. Drawing on CrunchBase and other data banks, SecondMarket’s analytics team created profiles for 12,000 privately held companies. The profiles offer snapshots of all the key data (executives, funding rounds, recent news, headquarters, etc), and also let users “watch” companies of interest. No surprises: The top-watched companies right now are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Groupon and Foursquare.

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Active investors can advertise their private-company holdings, if they choose to — either publicly or to their network of connections. SecondMarket founder Barry Silbert made his profile public, touting his stakes in companies like Vator.tv, ProFounder and Slated. This could be catnip for investors like those on AngelList, who use their seed stakes as social calling cards.

The goal is to make SecondMarket the premier site for information on private firms. “We wanted to create an experience where anyone can come for education,” says Dominic Preuss, SecondMarket’s chief product officer, who joined the company six months ago.

The hope is that some of those it educates will mature into buyers — or sellers. SecondMarket has 55,000 registered investors perusing its offerings. It needs a steady stream of employees with equity in private firms to give them something to buy. To that end, the company is adding features to its new platform to help those with startup equity monitor their holdings — and the potential buyer interest in them.

One fun fact: The private-company marketplace is the most visible part of SecondMarket’s business, but it’s still a tiny sliver of the seven-year-old broker-dealer’s overall operation. Since launching its private-stock market in April 2009, SecondMarket has done $500 million in total volume (a full 40% of it in Facebook stock). Last year, the company’s total transaction volume was $10 billion. Facebook may be sexy, but the market for auction-rate securities is a whole lot bigger. -Stacy

Why SecondMarket is selling the government’s Citi warrants

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SecondMarket is best known in the tech world for the private-stock marketplace it runs, selling shares in Facebook, Etsy and other hot startups. So Jason Calacanis’ tweet/blogpost this morning about SecondMarket having a role in selling some of the Treasury Department’s Citigroup warrants raised more than few eyebrows.

A SecondMarket spokeswoman confirmed that the e-mail Jason published is real, but declined to discuss it any further.

This is actually a glimpse into SecondMarket’s less-sexy but more established core line of business. The company — headquartered just a few blocks from the NYSE — started in 2004 and made its name dealing in toxic, unsellable assets. Its biggest line of business (until recently; it may have been eclipsed last quarter) was selling auction-rate securities — the supposedly stable investment that froze up completely in 2008. 

SecondMarket’s private-stock marketplace was almost an accident. It launched less than two years ago, in April 2009, when the company decided to experiment with private stock — which, after all, is simply another illiquid asset, the company’s specialty. 

It took off like a rocket, and is now poised to become the company’s biggest single line of business. Last quarter, SecondMarket sold $158 million in private company stock.

But that’s still a fraction of the $1.5 billion to $2 billion that passes annually through SecondMarket’s system. Only accredited investors (those with a net worth of $1 million or a solidly six-figure annual income) can participate on the exchange, but those that sign up get access to a broad range of non-traditional assets, including bankruptcy claims, CDOs (remember those, the things that basically nuked Wall Street?), mortgage-backed securities (if NPR can own a toxic asset, so can you!) and other exciting moneysinks.  -Stacy

Facebook to employees: Wanna cash out? Pay up.

Employees who get in at the ground floor at tech startups often make a smaller chunk of change than do their peers. But these workers often receive company stock, which could lead to big bucks if the company takes off and files for an IPO.

Some employees don’t want to wait that long to cash out — and since 2009, they haven’t had to cross their fingers for an IPO. Last year, the market for trading private company shares exploded. Exchanges on SharesPost and SecondMarket have been heating up, but two big companies are trying to dump cold water on it.

As CNNMoney reported, Facebook recently began charging employees a $2,500 fee if they sell their private stock. Social-game developer Zynga has followed suit, introducing a $6,000 charge.

These new fees are a bummer for startup employees trying to make a quick buck, but the companies point out transferring private stock often comes with hefty legal and administrative costs. Of bigger concern, most likely, is that it’s tough for management to maintain control when a bunch of outsiders are shareholders.

My boyfriend checked out the exchanges and saw someone was offering $10 a share for the startup at which he works. It’s no Facebook, but hey, I’ll take it! Erm, I mean, he will! Yeah! -Julianne