Entrepreneur Spotlight
Richard Johnson in Burgaw, N.C
Photo: Michael Cline Spencer
Richard Johnson ’84 in Burgaw, N.C., a distressed town he is working to revive.
Burgaw Now

by Matt Zencey

When Richard Johnson ’84 was in fifth grade, he would spend his allowance on toothpicks, dip them in cinnamon oil and sell them for five cents each. By seventh grade, he was buying cases of Life Savers candy and selling individual rolls to his classmates. It was an early sign that he might do well in the business world — and he certainly did. In the late 1990s, the Bucknell political science major founded HotJobs, an early internet job search and recruiting site. It proved to be so hot that Yahoo bought the business for more than $400 million in 2002.

Selling to Yahoo made possible what Johnson calls “Life 2.0,” a long interlude when he focused on his family and sharing his marketing and management expertise with several nonprofit groups. Since 2005, he has lived along the southern coast of North Carolina, where he recently founded a community group to promote better stewardship of Masonboro Island, an undeveloped nature preserve across the water from his home that was being trashed by rowdy visitors.

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“Succeeding at entrepreneurship is always a question of sales and marketing.”

Now, in what he calls “Life 3.0,” he says, “I’m focused on social entrepreneurism — doing things that are fun and not looking to make a ton of money.” His biggest project is to revive the charming but distressed town of Burgaw, not far from his home. Johnson founded and invested millions in a campaign called Burgaw Now, which restores vacant buildings, supports new businesses and boosts the town’s image.

The venture draws heavily on his flair for creating buzz around a project. “I have marketing ideas every day,” Johnson says. “Succeeding at entrepreneurship is always a question of sales and marketing.”