WHO wants to be a millionaire? It seems that everyone does. But short of playing the lottery, it might appear to some that the quickest path to riches is to start an Internet company. Not so fast. The road to the high-tech high life is not as smooth as the growing list of Internet millionaires might lead some to believe. Just ask the following Internet entrepreneurs who've cut a daring swath through the information superhighway. Though their ascent has been dizzying, they'll be the first to tell you the journey was hard. They may be working in a fascinating new industry, but these guys made money the old-fashioned way. They earned it.
BRANDY THOMAS, chairman and CEO, Cyveillance, Arlington, Va.
According to Brandy Thomas, founder and CEO Cyveillance, an Internet surveillance company based in Arlington, Va, there are only a few reasons that compel people to go into business for themselves. "Some people start a company because they want to change the world," he says. "Some people start a company because they want to be their own bosses. And then there are people who start a company because they want to make a lot of money.
"The truth is, we fell into the latter category," he says candidly. "Yes, we wanted to create a lasting company. Yes, we wanted to be our own bosses. But when you really got down to it, a lot of the reason that we wanted to do it was for the compensation. We wanted to make money."
And make money they have. Launched in 1997, Cyveillance is now the leading provider of the sort of Internet intelligence that allows businesses to track who is illegally using their copyrighted and trademarked material. In its brief history, the company has grown exponentially, expanding from a staff that consisted largely of its four founding partners (three of whom are Black) to its current payroll of nearly 150 employees. Recently, the company got a capital infusion that pushed its worth to $35 million.
Brandy Thomas, 32, and his younger brother Jason, 26, were two of the engines propelling Cyveillance forward. Brandy is the business visionary who has guided the company's growth and charts its financial course. Jason is the technological whiz who developed the program on which the company's fortunes rest. They are the nucleus of a formidable team that is changing how companies hunt down intellectual property pirates.
The company was the brainchild of Brandy and his friend Chris Young, 28 (who has since moved on to found another company).
When they met in the early 1990s, they were both highly credentialed, fast-tracking Black executives at Mercer Management Consulting in Washington, D.C. Young was a graduate of Princeton University where he majored in public policy and economics. Thomas had an undergraduate degree from Duke University in electrical engineering and an MBA from Stanford. Though their salaries were in the low six figures, they were itching to do more.
"We were lamenting that the Internet explosion was passing us by," Thomas recalls. "We were doing all this work in different sectors--some of it in high-tech industries--but there was this feeling that we weren't involved in the same way as a lot of guys our age."
JASON THOMAS, vice president of Technology, Cyveillance, Arlington, Va.
They decided to start a business. Their initial idea was to develop and market software that would help high-tech companies license their ideas to protect them from theft. But that idea was premature, they realized. "Before you license your idea, you need to protect it from Internet pirates," Thomas says.
To help create the software for this venture, Brandy Thomas turned to "the best developer I know." His brother Jason. Jason was just finishing a master's degree at in engineering at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (from which he also earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science), and had pledged his post-graduate services to the Microsoft Corporation, where he'd spent several years gaining programming experience as an intern. …