Meet the money behind Dotcom

By Geraldine Johns

Who is the mysterious millionaire, who left school at age 15, who is now listed as the new CEO of Kim Dotcom's latest venture? Geraldine Johns gets a glimpse into the world of the elusive Tony Lentino.

The CEO of Kim Dotcom's Mega venture, Tony Lentino, met the German entrepreneur at his home airstrip. Photo / Michael Craig
The CEO of Kim Dotcom's Mega venture, Tony Lentino, met the German entrepreneur at his home airstrip. Photo / Michael Craig

It is difficult to get noticed when you are in the company of a colossus - be it in size, business or celebrity.

But that seems to be the way Tony Lentino likes it. He's the guy in the check shirt who popped up on stage at Kim Dotcom's Mega launch party last week (alongside Dotcom's besuited US lawyer, Ira Rothken.) The look on Lentino's face was one of insouciance, but his connection with the internet enfant terrible is rock-solid in its seriousness.

Lentino, 39, is the guy who stumped up the funds when Dotcom's were frozen. He paid the rent, said to be to the tune of $250,000, and kept the family financially afloat when the courts had seized Dotcom's assets.

Now he's got an even bigger role to play: Lentino is CEO of Mega - Dotcom's new file sharing and storage website. Added to that is the fact that he's the largest of the three outside investors in the venture, and the only New Zealander.

But who exactly is he? And why would he ally himself with a man being sought by the FBI, and seen by his opponents, of which there are many, as facilitating internet piracy. To find out is to enter a world where electronics has a commanding hand and human presence plays little part.

This, perhaps makes sense. Before Mega, the people who knew Lentino's name identified him as the guy who set up - and made a killing on - the domain name service provider, Instra. The company has a development office in Melbourne and a sales and support office in Napier.

It has a revenue of $20 million a year and is very profitable, its CEO, Bob Clarkson, recently told the National Business Review.

Why are we quoting other publications? Because Lentino does not give much in the way of interview. He has, however, agreed to talk in this instance - by email. This after a volley of mobile phone negotiations with his wife, Emily Lentino, assisted in part by sister Louise Lentino, who manages the Napier Instra office.

Lentino was born in Hastings. And, yes, that is his real name. His, he says, is the classic story of poor boy made good.

"My family had no money or connections. My parents scrimped and saved to get me my first computer when I was 8 years old," he writes. If that's true, that makes the senior Lentinos some of the country's earliest adapters. New Zealand's first home computer systems had been introduced just one year before, in 1981. The family moved to Australia when their boy was 13; he dropped out of school at 15. He started Instra.com in his early 20s. The business has evolved into one that is internationally recognised, and which looks after some of the world's largest brands, Lentino continues.

"It was a lot of good luck, hard work, drive and determination. It was also about doing the right thing. Believing in the right things. I was ripped off so many times. Kicked to the ground. I just got back up again and worked harder."

Perhaps he sees a bit of himself in Dotcom's situation. The pair became close friends after Dotcom asked Lentino if he could use his runway (Lentino, an instrument-rated pilot, has his own plane, helicopter and airport) to race his car.

And so it was that the day of the raid on the Dotcom mansion changed both their lives. Lentino says he was "in total disgust and disbelief" at the events that unfolded that day. "It was shocking and unbelievable that this could happen in New Zealand."

In the immediate aftermath, Emily Lentino went to Kim's wife, Mona Dotcom, to offer help. "It was the right thing to do. I spoke to Kim in jail and he told me his situation. We didn't think about it, we helped immediately."

Lentino says he has never been into self-promotion. Clearly, that ethos applies in social situations, too. At the Mega launch party, he was the only one of the head honchos who chose not to wear a suit. Says Spy celebrity photographer Norrie Montgomery: "He was very unassuming - almost to the point you'd never think the guy has the money he's got."

Lentino, sunglasses pushed back off his forehead, was swigging beer out of a bottle - "a real Kiwi guy; he looked like the country boy compared to the city boys," says Montgomery. "They were polar opposites. Lentino was very cool, very laid-back, very accommodating."

The man with the money says that his role as Mega CEO is an interim position: "and [I will] soon be off the radar again".

Not Mega itself, though. He will not reveal how much he has invested in the company, but whatever the value, it does not match his belief in the company.

"I invested as an entrepreneur to help get this incredible venture off the ground ... I am a true believer that if supported by the Government, Mega has the potential of creating a Silicon Valley opportunity, spawning hundreds of Kiwi startups."

Today he is at his Wellsford property - the 383ha estate called Springhill - with his wife and child. Another baby is on the way. Flying was his passion ("aviation was my way of escaping and [it] allowed me to keep focused") but fatherhood has changed him. "I love flying, I have participated in a few Targa [car] rallies and enjoyed them, but since becoming a father last year, I am more cautious."

Whether that is the same in business is yet to be seen.

- Herald on Sunday

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