Back in the '90s, retailer Hot Topic gained a level of notoriety by gobbling up punk / alternative culture and style and repackaging it for mall-going teens across the country. (I'm not judging, I may have bought a few Tool T-shirts there in my day.) Now, the company is getting its hands into geek culture — Hot Topic just bought Geeknet, owners of the goofy ThinkGeek.com online shop. ThinkGeek is pretty well known for its wide variety of kitschy, pop-culture focused offerings — the site's banner features huge properties like Marvel, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and more. But it also has historically offered a host of weird, offbeat products like USB-powered beverage coolers, laser-projected keyboards, and all manner of other oddities.
A deal with a very weird backstory
There's likely a huge crossover between those shopping at Hot Topic and those buying nerdy goods from ThinkGeek, so the purchase makes a lot of sense — but there's also some weird history to it, as well. As noted earlier today by Bloomberg, Geeknet was previously known as SourceForge, which was previously known as VA Linux Systems. Far from a household name, the company nonetheless had a huge IPO in 1999, before the first big tech bubble burst. VA Linux Systems launched in 1993 and made its business selling PCs with Linux preinstalled, something that seemed like a potential success back at the time. After setting a share price of $30 prior to the IPO, first-day share prices closed at a whopping $239.25 — a 698 percent gain on that opening price.
That marked the strongest opening-day performance in Nasdaq history, but it didn't last. Within 12 months, VA Linux Systems' shares were trading in the single digits. The company exited the hardware business within 18 months and laid off most of its employees — but after a few pivots, it turned its first profit in 2006 after a move into the ecommerce business.
But the road has finally ended for VA Linux Systems / SourceForge / Geeknet — it is now a part of Hot Topic, an undeniably odd path for a company to take. Still, there's some nice symmetry here — Linux desktops are as much an oddity of the '90s now as much of what Hot Topic made its name selling way back when it got started.