David Bohnett

Founder and Chairman

GeoCities

The profile and personal fortune of David Bohnett soared last week, as his Santa Monica-based company issued its initial public offering and investors bid up the $17 offering price to $37.31 on the first day of trading. The runup made his 8.1 percent stake worth $92.6 million.

Bohnett, a former software marketer, founded GeoCities in 1994 on a simple premise: Give people free space to publish their own pages on the World Wide Web. That has led more than 2 million Web "homesteaders" to create their own sites on topics ranging from simple family photos to elaborate examinations of Monty Python.

GeoCities also allows people to communicate with one another via e-mail and chat rooms.

In effect, GeoCities has created an "online community." It is the Web's third-most-visited domain, attracting upwards of 14 million visitors a month, and its audience has been growing at twice the speed of the average Web site.

GeoCities' success can be traced to Bohnett's foresight "to turn on the light switch and get out of the way to let people do it," according to Steve Harmon, senior investment analyst and vice president of business development at Meckler Media in Silicon Valley.

From 1990 to 1994, Bohnett was director of product marketing for software firm Goal Systems, and prior to that was chief financial officer for Essential Software of Beverly Hills.

But in the spring of 1994, Bohnett, 42, lost his long-time companion to AIDS, prompting him to quit software marketing and search for a more meaningful pursuit.

On something of a whim, he and a friend purchased some computer equipment, created a Web site, and began transmitting live video feeds from cameras placed at Hollywood and Vine and a few other intersections. The site became popular, and from there Bohnett expanded into offering free home pages, creating GeoCities.

What's generating so much excitement on Wall Street is the potential audience and low overhead. By selling ad space on its pages and offering online "storefronts," where users can sell products and services for $25 a month, the company hopes to boost revenue from $4.6 million last year to $20 million to $25 million this year.

David Brindley

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