SPN sat down with Bonforte while he was in Omaha to keynote Prosper Omaha, an event put on by the Omaha Chamber.
SPN: This is your first time in Omaha. What do you think?
JB: It’s good! We’re going to the Stormchasers game tonight. I bought tickets last night.
Because I’m a nerd, I like [visiting] the data center. I’m always excited to see that side of our business. For me, when you work in software, it’s virtual. It doesn’t feel real sometimes. We like seeing the servers that have been goofy to us, you know? To physically touch them. It puts a little tangibility into our life. When you serve millions of customers, sometimes the data center is the most real part.
The Prosper Omaha event was cool, too. Everyone was eager to talk about innovation, and they were eager to talk about the boring, tactical stuff as opposed to the glamorous stuff. There was a level of professionalism in the discussion that make me feel this is beyond the beginning stages.
SPN: What makes Omaha an appealing place for Yahoo?
JB: Omaha makes sense for us on several vectors: Good labor pool. The labor pool has an affordable standard of living, which is the challenge we have in Northern California. We want to pay a wage that everyone can raise their family on. That’s challenging in California.
Also, good bandwidth. Affordable power. And a lean forward mentality across the ecosystem–that can be political issues, dealing with the local community. Data centers have kind of weird footprint. We consume a lot of energy, we’re very sensitive about our fiber–who’s digging where. It takes a while to build trust with a community.
SPN: Our readers love a good startup story, and most of all, a good failure story. Can you share one your failures?
JB: I have ‘em all! (laughs) With my second startup [i-drive] I raised $40 million. This was 1997-2000, and I was doing online storage. I spent $5 million for my first 16 terabytes of storage. Today you can get 16 terabytes for around $500 bucks. We had a monthly bandwidth bill of $1.7 million. Ten percent of the Internet was going through my data center servers because everyone was downloading music.
I did a fun little startup deal with this other company called Scour. We did a great deal where they could search our customers’ hard drives and people could find stuff. Type in “Smurfs singing Metallica” and, bam, you get 77 songs. It was great, and then the MPAA shut them down. That company was headed by an entrepreneur named Travis Kalanick, who is now the CEO of Uber.
His first big deal was with my company, and my first big deal was with his company. He got shut down by the MPAA for doing a deal with us, and I was thankful that they didn’t know enough about technology to shut us down. We just went out of business the more natural way a few years later.
Read the full interview at SiliconPrairieNews.com.