Gary Alan Kremen, born 20 September 1963, is an extraordinary character. He is also the most unlikely porn baron the world had ever seen.
The son of two hard-working teachers, it was obvious early on that he had a prodigious intellect. A sharp, driven and inquisitive child who used to sit for hours in his backyard looking through a telescope at the stars.
At eight years old, he was reading physics books intended for children twice his age. At 12, he built his first computer. While at high school, he was nearly expelled for hacking into the school’s computer. He is, simply, the quintessential geek - highly intelligent, obsessed with the intricacies, and forever looking to push back at what is allowed. A croaky, high-pitched voice finishes off the picture.
But like the most famous geek in the world - Bill Gates - Kremen possesses a drive and determination that overrides his inherent shyness. He decided early on he was going to make it big in business and do it at the sharp edge. And, like Gates, that meant computers.
With an MBA from Stanford and degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, he built Match.com from nothing and saw it sold for $8 million. He was the broker in the sale of domain names computer.com and altavista.com for $500,000 and $3.35 million respectively. He has started, co-funded or floated more than 50 companies.
And yet he put his entire life’s work, his entire fortune on the line to win back Sex.com, despite knowing his chances of winning were low. I asked him why. "I hate people that call themselves entrepreneurs but sit in cocoons and don’t make hard decisions or scary decisions. I think that’s what separates the men from the boys. Are you willing to thrown down red and take the results and not whine about it?"
When he eventually won the domain back, he went after the money even though everyone told him the chances of getting hold of it were almost zero. He chased down Network Solutions, a company with revenues of $1 billion a year, to force it into accepting responsibility for giving away his domain - again, against the best pragmatic advice. He won.
Why take such enormous risks? Because of his innate sense of what is right. Network Solutions wrongly handed over the domain but wouldn’t admit it. Cohen wrongly stole the domain but wouldn’t hand it back. Both had to be punished and if that meant ten years of fighting and the risk of bankruptcy and ruin, he would do it because no one else was going to.
This fierce moral nature also comes with a disarming self-deprecation and honesty. Ask him a question and he will tell you the answer. And as with all people who value the truth above everything, he can recognise a lie several miles away. His lawyer for a big chunk of the Sex.com case, Charles Carreon grew very close to Gary and says he learned more from him that he has ever learned from a client. Nevertheless he says: “If I could install a heart of the same size as his brain, then we would have a really amazing human being.”
In recent years, Gary has mellowed. In his forties he finally married and they recently adopted a child. A missing element of humanity in Gary Kremen’s life - something that lent him a certain melancholy - has now been discovered.
The Gary of old saw mankind’s weaknesses - vanity, greed, gullibility, lethargy - and hated them for it. His nemesis however, Stephen Michael Cohen, continues to thrive and feed off them.