His name might not be as well-known as Mark Zuckerberg’s, but David Bohnett laid much of the groundwork for today’s social media revolution. From his days as a young ham radio enthusiast in Chicago’s suburbs, Bohnett was always fascinated by technology’s role in connecting people, and he was one of the first to recognize the potential of the Internet. In 1994, he founded Geocities, a website that allowed users to create their own pages and meet people with similar interests – a decade before Facebook. After five years, when Bohnett’s site was one of the most popular on the Internet, he sold the company to Yahoo Inc., netting a nine-figure payday. He has used the money to start his own venture capital firm, which has backed a number of Silicon Beach stars, and to support political and social causes such as gay rights. A youthful 56, Bohnett now spends his days running from one engagement to the next, meeting with high-powered politicians, renowned artists and tech wunderkinds. He recently sat down with the Business Journal at his impeccably designed Beverly Hills office to discuss the rise and fall of Geocities, why he spends so much time on philanthropic work and how he once raced golf carts with Gustavo Dudamel at a party while Frank Gehry and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa looked on.
Question: How did you manage to get into computers before they became so ubiquitous?
Answer: I was one of the fortunate ones – and this was similar to Bill Gates – my high school had a computer programming course in the basic programming language. We had a time-share terminal, teletype terminal where you would load your programs in on a punch paper tape and then run it back through the terminal on a time share. I was absolutely fascinated by it.
So you took to it right away?
I had always been interested in mechanical things, electronic things. I was an amateur radio operator in high school, which was really a precursor to everything that came later with the Internet and online services. I was always interested in the intersection of technology and communication, technology and connecting with other people.
Did you study computer science in college?
I initially started studying computer science, but at that point the computer science degree was a subset of a math major. I wasn’t interested so much in math theory behind computers; I was interested in the business applications for computer science. Although I took a number of computer programming courses, I then switched to business.
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