Brian Handly is a familiar name and face in Triangle satrtup circles, dating back to his days at Accipiter which was sold, reacquired, and sold again, leading to his exit into the world of investing and helping new startups.

Now he’s dealing with outside investors once more as CEO at Raleigh-based apps developer StepLeader. The privately held firm on Tuesday disclosed it had raised $4.4 million in its first outside fund raiser since spinning out of Capitol Broadcasting’s New Media venture as a standalone company last year.

Actually, he’s wearing multiple hats. Handly also said he was “excited to share that I am participating as part of this round of funding.”

Given his track record of helping build one of the Triangle’s first tech success stories in Accipiter (which was led by Chris Evans, who also is now an investor and advisor), reacquiring that business from the original buyer in 2002 (CMG) only to sell it again in 2006 and then leaving Microsoft in 2009 after it had bought what remained of Accipiter, Handly is charged with turning StepLeader into one of the region’s next big hits.

The name StepLeader is derived from a meteorological term that refers to invisible energy needed for a lightning strike, so the question about his new venture is: Will lightning strike again?

WRALTechWire talked with Handly about StepLeader’s deal with Bull City Venture Partners, a new venture fund in Raleigh, and River Cities Capital Fund.

How is the business growing? Steadily? Quickly?

StepLeader is indeed growing very quickly right now. The growth is a result of delivering great products that drive very high levels of user engagement and billions of page views across our products. Over the past 12 months we’ve greatly improved our ability to monetize this massive engagement through targeted mobile advertising.

In searching for capital, what do these two investors offer you beyond the money? Please speak to both firms.

Two of the most important criteria I look for in investors are our ability to work together after the deal closes and their domain and business expertise. With River Cities, Ed McCarthy and Rik Vandevenne are not only great folks to work with but they also bring great operational expertise and IT business acumen that will help us scale with growth.

David [Jones] and Jason [Caplain] at Bull City Venture Partners are some of the hardest working guys in the venture community and expend a great deal of time effort and energy on behalf of their portfolio companies. We are excited to be involved with both firms.

Was raising the capital a difficult process or did you find investors willing to make a deal at reasonable terms?

Raising capital is a rewarding and challenging experience every single time. Ultimately we are all after the same thing: build a successful business that customers absolutely love. Having this end goal in mind allowed us to reach favorable deal terms for everyone involved.

So many startups say there is little capital. You found backers. What factors enabled you to attract the funding?

There are a few things that made StepLeader an attractive investment. The company has an established history of creating great products that customers love in the fast paced industry that mobile offers. This foundation has allowed us to generate multiple revenue streams from multiple sources. Having been through this process myself a few times already, I feel that River Cities and Bull City Venture Partners were comfortable with my track record and quickly saw what a phenomenal team we have in place here.

How many employees do you have now, and how many do you hope to add with new funding?

We currently have just over 30 people on staff and are looking to hire approximately 13-15 more this year.

In what areas will you be hiring?

We’ll be adding to our development team to increase the pace at which we can ship new product and remain innovative. We also plan to hire business development headcount for both app sales and mobile advertising.

How long do you expect this round of capital to last?

We do not anticipate needing further funding after this round.

I am aware of the media business; what is the niche you are carving out for college sports? Is this a new or relatively new venture? Why pick that space?

The college sports market today is underserved, lacking high-quality mobile apps and solutions that can be deployed at scale. We see a tremendous opportunity to pursue this market by leveraging our 8+ years of mobile expertise while helping colleges and universities get mobile right.

I had asked you when you joined the firm if you took an equity stake yourself as an investor; have you now put money into the firm?

I am excited to share that I am participating as part of this round of funding.

(Note: Capitol Broadcasting is the parent firm of WRALTechWire, which is part of the Capitol New Media division.)