Rich Barton, who built the online travel company into a giant, is now a Northwest point man for a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm.

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Rich Barton was a young upstart when he pitched Bill Gates about the radical concept of selling travel online.

Now others will be pitching him.

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Barton — who founded Expedia within Microsoft’s walls and led its growth into a multibillion-dollar public company — has joined Silicon Valley’s Benchmark Capital as a venture partner.

Barton will be an adviser and consultant to the firm’s Internet portfolio, which includes early investments in eBay and OpenTable, as well as more recent investments in Friendster and He will remain in Seattle and focus on deals in the Northwest and potentially elsewhere.

Benchmark Capital, which rose to prominence as an early backer of eBay, was described in the dot-com-era tome “eBoys” as a group of scrappy “up-from-the-bottom plebeians” in contrast to the haughty elite of the better known Valley firm Kleiner Perkins. Barton yesterday said he joined because he likes the way the company treats entrepreneurs.

He said many startups know what it’s like to have a venture-capital firm’s senior investor there during the funding process but then disappear while the company is built.

“Benchmark doesn’t have those people,” he said. “The partners are the guys who sit on the boards and they’re the mentors.”

Barton was the first product manager for Expedia when its sole purpose was to develop a travel CD-ROM. He persuaded Gates to invest in the larger idea of building an online travel-booking site, an idea from which Microsoft profited.

Expedia was partially spun off from Microsoft in November 1999 with an initial public offering and eventually surpassed Travelocity as the largest online travel-booking site.

In July 2001, Expedia shed ties to Microsoft completely when InterActiveCorp, or IAC, purchased the software giant’s majority stake in the company. It eventually purchased Expedia’s remaining public shares — removing one of the Internet’s strongest-performing stocks.

Barton left Expedia a month before it was folded into IAC. He spent a year in Florence, Italy, with his wife and children.

In December, IAC announced it would split its collection of Internet businesses in two and re-establish a publicly traded travel unit under the Expedia brand name. The business will be headquartered in Bellevue.

Barton said he recently stepped down from the IAC board but not to join Benchmark. “Getting off the board did free up some of my time.”

He has founded another startup. Seattle-based Zillow is a consumer-focused Internet service, but he won’t say much beyond that.

Barton said the startup will look for funding later this year. “We’re trying to recruit people but we don’t want to tell them what we’re doing,” he quipped.

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632