Gene Hoffman is the chairman and CEO of Vindicia, a provider of SaaS billing solutions. Prior to Vindicia, Gene co-founded eMusic in January 1998 and served as president, chief executive officer, and a director. As head of eMusic, Gene was featured on the cover of Forbes Magazine as a member of the July 1999 E-Gang and named one of the 100 most influential entrepreneurs in technology in Upside Magazine’s November 2000 Elite 100. Gene led the acquisition of eMusic by Vivendi/Universal in June 2001. Prior to founding eMusic Gene was director of business development and director of interactive marketing of Pretty Good Privacy. Gene joined Pretty Good Privacy after it acquired PrivNet, Inc., an Internet privacy software company, where he was co-founder, director and executive vice president.
Sramana: Gene, let’s start with your background. Where are you from?
Gene Hoffman: I am originally from North Carolina, born and raise outside of Charlotte. My father was a CPA/CFO and ran a company called Kinderphoto which was a large photography chain throughout the world. When he sold the photography business, he started a brokering small and medium businesses, so I was exposed to a lot of different businesses very early on.
I started my first mowing business when I was nine years old. I had five or 10 customer throughout the summer. It was always fun being a teenager trying to figure out how to use commercial banking. I was also the kid who had a pager when nobody else did because it was part of my advertising. In high school I worked for IBM for a summer and saved up enough money to buy a recording studio. I started a professional recording studio on the side. I got involved in both sound design and lighting design at my high school theater and took a real liking to sound infrastructure and recording. I did a lot of band recording, and it was a lot of fun.
I went to the University of North Carolina and to some extent I took my recording studio with me. At North Carolina you were not allowed to have a automobile as a freshman unless you had a really good reason. I was self-employed, so I was able to have a car. The flip side is that I always had to drive home to meet recording dates. I did that through my late sophomore year. By my junior year, in 1995, ISPs were starting to pop up. A good friend of mine had invested in the Netscape IPO and did very well. We thought about starting an ISP but we were concerned that they would become commoditized. When we saw the rise of Internet advertising we thought it would be great to manage the ads on the client side. I founded an Internet company to block ads and cut cookies.
That company was quite successful. We were on the front page of the New York Times business section. It was right at the time that Excite was going public. It was an exciting time. We were ahead of the time because we created a lot of the cookie scare and a lot of the cookie management features in browsers today descend from our software. The top right search box that is in browsers today was a concept of ours that we had licensed to Infoseek. I sold that to PGP, and they moved me to Silicon Valley in 1996.