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So What Do You Do, Jonathan Geller, President and Editor-in-Chief of Boy Genius Report?
'Be authentic, be engaged and interact with your readers.'- July 2, 2014
You may not have heard of Jonathan Geller, but if you're in the tech world, you probably know him by another name: Boy Genius. Geller has been hugely influential on mobile tech blogs for years, first as an anonymous 17-year-old-columnist at Engadget, then as the secret head of BGR.com. The site gained a following with tech lovers for its ability to report on new products months before their official release.
Geller revealed his identity in 2010, when his site was bought by PMC Media (which also operates Hollywood Life, Deadline and Movieline, among other sites). As to why he finally pulled off the mask, Geller simply said, "It just seemed like the right time. I wanted to be a visible figure." And that he is. Geller now regularly appears on outlets like CNBC and Bloomberg, discussing the latest mobile tech trends. Apparently all that publicity is paying off: BGR now has around 8 million unique visitors per month, making it the number one source for mobile tech news and leaks.
Here, Geller talks about dropping out of high school, starting a record label at age 15, almost being sued by Cingular and his long-term goals for BGR.
Name: Jonathan Geller
Position: President and editor-in-chief of Boy Genius Report (BGR.com)
Resume: Built first computer at the age of 13, learned to code by 14, started a record label at 15, was hired as a contributor at Engadget at 17 and launched BGR at 18. Sold the company to PMC Media in 2010. Continues to write and oversee editorial content on the site.
Birthday: April 26
Hometown: Greenwich, Conn.
Education: Dropped out of Greenwich High School sophomore year
Marital status: Engaged
Best career advice received: "If you don't build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs."
Guilty pleasure: Brunello Cucinelli clothing
Last book read: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
Twitter handle: @boygenius
When did your interest in computers begin and how did you become known as the 'IT guy for the music industry' at only 15?
I was exposed to computers when I was 9 or 10 and I was never a true geek, but I was fascinated by them. A few years later, I got really into design and coding. I just loved it from an early age.
When I was 14, I got really into hip-hop and R&B music. A family friend introduced me to [Justin Bieber's manager] Scooter Braun, and we really hit it off. So then I started producing music and selling beats online. I ended up dropping out of high school and moving to Atlanta to work with [Braun]. It was a crazy time. I was 15 and hanging out with Usher in these clubs. It was incredible. I was exposed to so much; I learned so much about networking and making connections.
How did you go from working in Atlanta with Braun to writing for Engadget?
So I was still into music, I'd started a record label and I was building connections everywhere. At the time [around 2005], there were only a couple of big tech websites, and Engadget was one of my favorites.
|"I liked the hype and marketing opportunities and uniqueness of being anonymous."|
Because of my connections in the music industry, companies started giving me their products before they were released. There wasn't that much product placement or promotion like there is today. So I'd get a Blackberry before anyone else, and I'd give it to Ludacris. The companies loved it and kept sending me more. Eventually, Engadget gave me my own column.
Did your sources know you were a teenager at the time?
It was weird because some people knew I was 17; others had no clue. The ones that did know didn't really care. They knew about my connections and wanted their products out there.
Tell us how you started Boy Genius Report.
I started BGR in 2006. Like I said, I had loved Engadget for years, and I started sending them pictures of unreleased phones. When I saw how interested people were, I decided to branch out on my own. At one point, I had Cingular's entire roadmap, and they called Engadget and said they were suing them for $900,000. I was totally freaked out, but they were like, 'This is great!'" That's when I knew I really had something marketable.
Why did you stay anonymous when you launched your own site?
I stayed anonymous because at the time I was doing both music and [writing], and I didn't want to be known in both worlds. I also liked the hype and marketing opportunities and uniqueness of being anonymous. I was this 17-year-old kid running the site, and the head of AT&T thought there were 1,000 people behind it, and he's trying to come after me. Everyone in the tech industry feared me.
By the time BGR got acquired by PMC, I decided to finally out myself. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted to be a visible figure and the public face of my brand.
|"At the end of the day, you've just got to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks."|
How has BGR changed since the PMC acquisition?
At its core, I don't think the site has changed much. It's a testament to PMC, because you would think there would be major changes after a big buyout. But they've just added more resources and an amazing sales team.
What are your long-term goals for BGR?
My long-term goals would be expanding beyond the U.S., which we've already started doing. We just launched BGR India, which is a part of India.com, a joint venture with Zee TV, the largest media company in India. We just want to continue to move the business forward. Last year was our best year in terms of growth and revenue. And it looks like this year is going to top that. Tech sites tend to be one dimensional, and I want to [take] the business offline.
Our reviews are so unique and honest and we were thinking, 'how can we leverage that?' We're doing it by creating the BGR Seal of Approval. Think of it as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, but for tech. It will let the average consumer know if a product is worth buying. Is it something that a normal person can use without trouble? Is it going to be supported by the company past the initial release? There's so much noise to cut through in tech. The BGR Seal of Approval is purely editorial, but it's something we're really excited about. We're launching in next two weeks, and the first company and product we are awarding it to is called Lyve, a new company that helps you simplify and protect all of your photos, videos and memories.
What are the keys to a great tech website?
Content, content, content. You've also got to have a great team. You have to know your audience. You need to have that instinct, to know what people want to read.
What is your advice for people starting a career covering tech?
Be authentic, be engaged and interact with your readers. Whether it's on Twitter, on Facebook, whatever. At the end of the day, you've just got to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.
Aneya Fernando is the editorial assistant at Mediabistro. Follow her on twitter @aneyafernando.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of Mediabistro Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of Mediabistro Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.
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