By Dan Primack
September 2, 2011

If Michael Arrington is leaving TechCrunch, what does that mean for the investors in CrunchFund?

Yesterday we were first to report that tech blogger Michael Arrington has launched a $20 million venture capital fund, which is being backed by AOL (AOL) and a group of Silicon Valley’s top VC firms.

I’m still working through my thoughts on all this, and AOL apparently is working through what this means for TechCrunch, the Arrington-founded property is acquired late last year. It told the NYT that Arrington would still have a (reduced) role with the site, and continue reporting directly to Arianna Huffington. Then AOL said he would report to AOL Ventures. Today it says that he is no longer employed by the company, but can continue contributing to TechCrunch as an unpaid blogger. In other words, AOL is acting like AOL typically acts: Scattershot.

[Update: Now AOL says Arrington is an AOL employee, but as part of AOL Ventures rather than AOL’s editorial division. But it also says he can’t use TechCrunch “as an access point for deal flow” — even though that’s the very plan AOL signed off on a while ago. This may be one of corporate America’s most disjointed PR teams…]

My interest in the above machinations are not so much from a media perspective, or what it all could mean to a potential private equity purchaser of AOL. Instead, I’m curious as to what it means for those who have invested in Arrington’s fund.

To be sure, virtually none of the investors in CrunchFund – an unfortunate name choice for the website left behind – are doing this for the potential ROI. After all, what’s a couple hundred thousand dollars (or even a million) to an individual like Marc Andreessen or a firm like Kleiner Perkins?

Instead, they’re doing it for access to Arrington’s vast network. But if Arrington no longer has his TechCrunch platform, is he still able to maintain that network? Moreover, do entrepreneurs still want his money over that of the numerous other micro-VCs working Silicon Valley’s seed-stage circuit? Will his digital media expertise and persona be enough of a selling point, or might he need to launch his own blog (as so many VCs do)? And is he even allowed to do so, given his plans to keep writing — albeit unpaid — for TechCrunch?

Moreover, what exactly were CrunchFund LPs told about Arrington’s relationship with AOL? I’m not suggesting that Arrington mislead anyone, but it certainly does seem that things may have changed in the past 24 hours. My understanding is that he basically has all $20 million spoken for, but that he has not yet held a final close (just a first close, which presumably included the AOL commitment). Can’t imagine anyone would back out — again, the money itself is largely irrelevant — but I wouldn’t be surprised if some LPs aren’t asking tough questions. So should AOL shareholders, who were previously told that Arrington would stick around to help lead TechCrunch for several years post-acquisition.

TechCrunch itself could probably help clarify some of his, but so far has been conspicuously absent when it comes to covering the CrunchFund launch. Arrington remains listed on the site’s masthead as co-editor.

Arrington did an impressive job lining up a group of Silicon Valley’s top investors to support him in the next phase of his career. Now it will be interesting to watch how he keeps them happy.

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