December 16, 1997 5:05 AM PST

Will GeoCities go to Wall Street?

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Online community GeoCities may step into Wall Street's neighborhood with an initial public offering next year.

But as it looks toward an IPO, GeoCities contends with more than a dozen Internet companies that would prefer forming their own community with the online business through an acquisition. And one name to surface in the industry is Yahoo (YHOO).

"We are a classic pre-IPO company and have a number of options, but we have our head down and focused on building the business," GeoCities founder and chief executive David Bohnett said.

Nonetheless, Bohnett said that a number of companies have approached GeoCities with unsolicited buyout offers and that his online company has had discussions with 15 of the top 20 Web companies.

One such suitor rumored to be interested is Yahoo. Bohnett, however, declined to comment on whether the navigational giant was specifically one of the interested companies.

And asked if it made sense to team up with a search company, Bohnett said, "We don't know the search engine space, we know the community space. We just want to build traffic."

Jeff Mallet, Yahoo's senior vice president of business operations, said the Internet space will evolve the same way that traditional media has developed. Four or five global, branded, comprehensive networks online will emerge to provide a variety of services for people to find information on the Web.

The acquisition of GeoCities is not out of the question, Mallet said, but as of now there are no plans for Yahoo to acquire GeoCities. Yahoo currently points to GeoCities.

The company offers its members free Web sites that are broken down into roughly 40 neighborhoods. For example, the Broadway neighborhood is designed for members interested in theater, musicals, and show business. And within each neighborhood are ten or so specific topic areas.

GeoCities, meanwhile, is prepping for an IPO by bolstering its executive staff and forging commerce deals with retailers to enhance its offering to those in its growing neighborhood.

In November, GeoCities named Stephen Hansen company chief financial officer. Hansen was formerly senior vice president and chief financial officer of Universal Studios, where he managed negotiations, Wall Street presentations, and closed $2 billion in funding for Universal Islands of Adventure in Florida.

"We brought in an experienced CFO for a public offering. It is a natural progression here," Bohnett said.

The company also brought in Michael Barrett as vice president of advertising sales. Barrett formerly served as vice president of advertising for Disney Online. Both executives report directly to Bohnett.

Bohnett added that Hansen brings GeoCities financial discipline and Barrett helps fill out the company's sales structure.

GeoCities has had a year of internal growth as well as a jump in traffic to its Web site. The company's workforce has swelled to 85 full-time, part-time, and contract employees from 36 last year.

Membership has grown even faster. Year over year growth for the Web site's members, dubbed homesteaders, jumped about 370 percent to 1.2 million, compared to 267,000 members last year.

Funding the company are six venture capital investors, including Intel, Softbank, Chase Capital Partners, Flatiron Partners, InnoCal, and CMG@Ventures.

 

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