One day, Kutcher walked onto the set and squinted at a circuit board in the back of the room.

"'This wouldn't be invented for two more years,'" Gad recalled Kutcher saying. "That attention to the tiniest detail informed the entire shoot."

Technology has always held a fascination for Kutcher, who was raised on an Iowa farm. In college, while studying biochemical engineering, he started programming.

He took a detour into modeling and acting after being spotted by a talent scout and dropping out of college at age 19.

OBITUARY: Steve Jobs dies at 65 | Full coverage

An early adopter of technology, Kutcher even sported a Motorola two-way pager back in the day. Soon he was experimenting with the Internet. In 2000, he spent hours in AOL chat rooms to get people talking about his film "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Kutcher was intrigued by the possibility of Internet video long before streaming was possible, and his production company explored creating video for the instant messenger program AIM. The prescient idea that people would want to share snippets of video with their friends was close to what people now do every day on Facebook and Twitter.

Kutcher's first tech forays, the Internet calling service Ooma (which now has a new management team) and the animated Web comedy series "Blah Girls," lost money. But he embraced Twitter long before it was cool, becoming the first to reach 1 million followers on the service. And he started investing in up-and-coming consumer Internet companies — question-and-answer service Quora, music streaming service Spotify, car service Uber.

Kutcher's growing business savvy impressed prominent investor Marc Andreessen, who said he helped Kutcher invest in Skype, which later sold for $8.5 billion.

Elliot Cohen, founder and chief executive of CityMaps.com, says Kutcher is more hands on than most investors. He gets emails at all hours from Kutcher about ways to improve its social mapping product.

"He always knows exactly where we are in our build cycle," Cohen said.

"Steve Jobs is an incredible case study for building a great business. He made mistakes, but he did an extraordinary amount of things right," Kutcher said. "I try to look at those ideals he had that were extremely positive: simplicity, innovation, focus and brutal honesty, and I try to encourage entrepreneurs around those ideals."

Kutcher now is on the lookout for the next Steve Jobs and just hopes he's smart enough to bankroll him or her.

jessica.guynn@latimes.com