Humphrey, Kenefick, and the other young entrepreneurs profiled in the following pages are creating a lot of wealth—for themselves and for investors and employees with stock options.
Starting a business has never been a sure-fire way to become a millionaire: Failure rates are high, and entrepreneurs who do make it often draw less of a salary than they would if they worked for someone else. For most business owners who succeed, it usually takes years of toil and sacrifice to accumulate real wealth.
But high-tech start-ups are about high growth: You can't spend years growing a business because technologies shift. The game is about working quickly and working smart, and then, after a few years, taking a company public or selling it. With the right idea and business smarts, one can do very well, very fast.
When Michael Saylor opened the Vienna office of MicroStrategy, a maker of decision-support software, half the desks were empty. When clients came for a meeting, Saylor would turn on the lights in the empty offices and shut the doors, to give the impression of prosperity. That was in 1994. MicroStrategy has since grown from 50 employees to 600. Revenues have risen as rapidly, and an initial public offering is in the works.
High-tech entrepreneurs have to move fast; slow thinkers do not survive. Fernandez has described the industry as "Darwinism on steroids."
"A lot of people who've been in business a long time are afraid of change," he says. "I'm afraid of not changing. The technology requires you to be constantly looking out into the marketplace and figuring out how to make course corrections."
The entrepreneurs succeeding in today's high-tech marketplace share a lot of characteristics: They're smart, confident, focused, and energetic. They're gamblers. They're also visionaries. Not only have they identified an opportunity, but they're also answering it better than most everyone else.
"Business has changed a lot in the past 15 years," says Jim Kenefick. "You see so many people doing part of other people's business, outsourcing. Twenty years ago that wasn't the case; companies like IBM did everything. There are more opportunities for entrepreneurs to say, 'Hey, you know what, I can manage that part of your business better.' That's the way the future is going to be."