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Who Are the 30 Under 30?


By Rod Kurtz
Inc. com


Youth, we've been told so many times, is wasted on the young. Not this group. A generation ago, when many of our entrepreneurial whiz kids were still in diapers, starting your own business was considered akin to career loafing, occupational flailing. The kind of thing your parents would frown upon, and encourage you to find work in, say, plastics.

And then a funny thing happened. The Michael Dells and Richard Bransons of the world -- very young people with very big ideas -- started to make entrepreneurship cool (not to mention, finding fame and millions in the process). Why spend your early years toiling away in Corporate America, the thinking evolved, when you could circumvent it from the get-go? Add to that a proliferation of college programs, an entire how-to industry, a legion of overnight dot-com millionaires for inspiration, and you have the makings of a new, well-treaded career path.

Consider the numbers. In the early 1980s, there were just 270 entrepreneurship courses offered at colleges and universities across the nation. Today, roughly 5,000. Some 200,000 students are now enrolled in some type of entrepreneurship class -- and that's not even counting those who bypass college to hang their own shingle (there are plenty). Entrepreneurs are starting companies younger and younger.

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Over the past several months on Inc.com, we've been gathering nominations in hopes of finding some of nation's most dynamic young entrepreneurs. And, oh, was it fun to pour through them. From dumplings to lifesaving medical devices to custom T-shirts, it quickly became clear that innovation today extends to a range of industries wider than that of their entrepreneurial elders.

We weren't looking solely at revenue (though we do have multimillionaires). What we set out to find were entrepreneurs with great potential -- those that have already found business success, through their inventions or ideas or strategies, but whose best days are almost surely still ahead of them. Companies, and people, you might want to keep an eye on. We certainly will.

The Wunderkind

By Angus Loten

When e-commerce was coming of age, so was Jared Isaacman. In 1999, while other New Jersey kids were shooting hoops after school, the 16-year-old was working part-time in the IT department of a nearby credit-card processing firm. There, he discovered a critical industry secret: "They were 20 years behind in technology and had to outsource almost everything they did," says Isaacman, now 23.

Another tech-savvy, dot-com era teen dumping on his corporate elders? Hardly. Within a year, Isaacman struck out on his own, fully believing a credit-card processing business with in-house systems -- from automated reporting and tracking, to online sales, marketing, and customer service -- could do more with less and outpace the competition by days, if not weeks.

He was right. Soon, United Bank Card, the company he bypassed college to found in 2000, was attracting upwards of 300 new clients a month, processing credit-card transactions for restaurants, liquor stores, and other brick-and-mortar merchants. By 2003, a top trade magazine ranked the then-unknown company No.1 in customer service, more than doubling its client accounts overnight.

Today, United Bank Card has some 45,000 clients -- including Burger King, Ferrari, and other corporate-world VIPs -- processing more than $4 billion in transactions every year and earning a spot at No. 19 on the Inc. 500. The company brings in 3,000 new clients every month with its network of independent salespeople and has since diversified into ATM transactions. Yet, Isaacman says he doesn't worry about finding new clients, because the market he serves is itself growing. "This country is filled with entrepreneurs and there are thousands of new small businesses every day," Isaacman says. "That's our business growing, too."

The Great Communicator

By: Angus Loten

Two years ago, as a junior at Harvard, Zuckerberg developed software to help fellow students trade photos and jokes, rant on any topic they pleased, or just say ‘hi’ -- creating a searchable database of personal profiles exclusively for the college set.

It caught on. Facebook, the company he co-founded and ultimately left school to run full time, is now the seventh-most trafficked U.S. website, according to comScore Media Metrix. The site connects seven million (and counting) registered users at colleges and high schools across the globe -- a full 80% of the student social-networking market.

Beyond campuses, the company recently unveiled a workplace network, hoping to retain the bulk of its five million or so users expected to enter the so-called real world this year. Already, some 40% of graduates continue to log on -- joining the two-thirds of all Facebook users who visit at least once a day, Zuckerberg says.

Still, moving out of the college market puts his company into the same arena as MySpace, a broader networking site that was acquired by News Corp. last year for $580 million. While MySpace has far more traffic, Facebook sees its more focused communities as an advantage over the Wild-West style of competing sites.

Facebook's own reach has attracted big media players -- including a rumored offer from Viacom for $750 million in April, and speculation the site was holding out for $2 billion.

"The numbers people were throwing around back then were big, and we're flattered by that," Zuckerberg now says, adding that the company, which runs strictly on advertising revenue, was never looking for a buyer. "Our attention at this point is on continuing to expand." Just weeks after those rumors, Facebook received some $25 million in venture capital from Grwylock Partners, Meredith Capital Partners, and Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal.

Where will future expansion come? Military bases, for one. Facebook has already tested the viability of running social networks for the armed forces, Zuckerberg said. "We don't think of ourselves as a college network." Today, he sees the company as a vanguard of a growing communications revolution in the way everyone -- not just college kids -- will eventually interact. "It's a utility to increase information flows, where you can express yourself and meet the people around you."

The Next Generation

By Ryan J. McCarthy

For Jacquelyn Tran, whose fascination with fragrances and beauty products dates back to childhood, getting into the family business meant bringing a new sales approach to a traditionally tactile experience -- shopping for perfume and cologne.

Speaking little English, Tran's parents emigrated from Vietnam in 1980, and spent the next 20 years taking their business from Orange County's fabled swap meets to a three-store retail perfume operation and a thriving wholesale business. After graduating from college in 1999 and seeing the selling potential of the Web, Tran used the olfactory experience -- and a $50,000 startup loan -- her parents had given her to launch Perfume Bay, an online store that now boasts more than 800 brands of perfume, cologne, and beauty products. "We had only heard of the Internet being the next big thing," Tran says. "But I didn't doubt that people were going to buy these products over the Internet. We knew we had to make sure the human element was there."

With revenue topping $9 million in 2005, nearly double since 2002, Tran says Perfume Bay has found success by translating the knowledge and customer service of a department-store makeup counter to the Web. Fragrances are described with sommelier-like specificity -- identifying ingredients like Ylang-Ylang and Bergamot -- and the site's offerings include everything from limited-edition scents to designer men's deodorant. Named a "Gold Honoree" by e-commerce watchdog BizRate for the past four years, Perfume Bay has garnered rave reviews from customers -- a number of which are posted on the site. (She has since acquired five other niche fragrance and beauty sites, contributing another $4 million in revenue)

Although she's put aside her dream of developing her own fragrance to focus on the day-to-day demands of her business, Tran remains focused on expansion -- with hopes of eventually opening brick-and-mortar Perfume Bay outlets in California, as well as a full-service hair and beauty salon.

"My goal was that my parents wouldn't have to put in the seven-day work weeks that they used to," she says. "This gives them a lot of pride."

The Bodybuilder

By Kevin Ohannessian

Back in high school, Ryan DeLuca developed passions for bodybuilding and business. So it wasn't long before he decided to merge the two. He began working out, with hopes of competing as an amateur bodybuilder and perhaps one day opening his own fitness studio. Around the same time, during the early days of the Internet, he started dabbling in e-commerce, selling a report of marketing tips for $3 each. The Web, he came to realize, would be a great place to peddle vitamins, supplements, and other tools for the weightlifting set.

DeLuca's company has benefited from a savvy domain-name purchase, but in a crowded marketplace that includes retail giants like GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe, Bodybuilding.com keeps customers coming back with the online community it has built over the years. Today, the site's forum has nearly 9 million posts from more than 200,000 members, generating 1 million page views a day. The company has also created more than 18,000 pages of its own fitness content, expanding into audio, video, and live webcasting of professional bodybuilding events. And while visitors are there, many of them place orders -- helping propel Bodybuilding.com to No. 230 on the Inc. 500.

"People naturally want to meet others with their same passion," DeLuca says as both a CEO and fitness fan. "How cool is it that if I am in Idaho and I am having a problem building my arms, I can talk with somebody in Australia who had the same problem but found the way to overcome it?"

Heading a fast-growing company with sights set on $100 million in revenue does have one drawback, though. "I haven’t been able to work out that much," he says.

The Lifesaver

By Jasmine D. Adkins

Many entrepreneurs like to say they're out to change the world. Holmes is staying true to her promise. At the age of 20, she designed a device with the goal of saving the estimated 100,000 people who die each year from adverse drug reactions. With the Theranos 1.0, patients prick their fingers and place a small drop of blood on a disposable cartridge, which is then inserted into a reader that analyzes the medicine within the bloodstream. The device then sends the data wirelessly to a secure database, which makes it available online to the patients' physicians.

Holmes is now marketing the product to pharmaceutical companies who will use it during their clinical trials to monitor how patients interact with new drugs -- with hopes of eventually distributing it commercially. As she describes it, "Thernos 1.0 is an external point-of-care BlackBerry."

Holmes was a chemical engineering major at Stanford, researching wireless transmission and medical analytics, when she conceived the idea to help provide data for early treatment. "When I told my professors about the device, they told me I would be crazy not to create a company," she says. She agreed -- and eventually left Stanford to pursue it. In the beginning, Holmes received a bridge loan from a VC firm and private-equity funding totaling $6 million. The company recently raised another $10 million, and Holmes remains as involved with the science as she does with raising capital, hiring employees, and the other day-to-day of running a company.

"I decided to pursue this full time and just did it," she says. "That's the way I do a lot of things in life -- when I decide something, that's it."

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