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[COMMUNITY] Gautam Godhwani - Successful Entrepreneurs Can't Stay Away

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  • madchinaman
    Not the retiring type Despite cashing in, many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs can t stay away By Alana Semuels, Times Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2007
      Not the retiring type
      Despite cashing in, many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs can't stay away
      By Alana Semuels, Times Staff Writer

      What would you do if you became a multimillionaire? In Silicon
      Valley, the answer is often surprising: Get back to work.

      Gautam Godhwani faced that decision at the age of 24. Only a few
      years out of UC Berkeley, he helped start an Internet company called
      AtWeb from his parents' basement, and Netscape snapped it up in 1998
      for $93 million.

      He celebrated by buying a Porsche 911 and a San Francisco apartment
      with three bedrooms and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Then he
      quit work and traveled the world first-class. Not sure what to do
      next, he founded and ran a community center for Indian Americans.

      But, as is typical in Silicon Valley, the urge to innovate brought
      him back to the office. Now 34, he's plugging away in Mountain View
      at an online job-listing start-up called Simply Hired.

      It's the Silicon Valley curse: Even with the means to retire young,
      Godhwani and other serial entrepreneurs can't ignore the drive that
      made them rich in the first place. That persistence helped cement the
      region's reputation as the tech capital of the world — people keep
      coming back for second and even third acts.

      "I love the challenge and reward that comes with having a hand in
      building a company," Godhwani said.

      The region, which has weathered decades of boom-and-bust cycles,
      appears to be on an another up- swing. Local technology companies
      created 33,000 new jobs in 2006, the first increase since the dot-com
      slump of 2001, according to Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a
      business-community alliance.

      "The fact that there are consistently people looking for the next new
      thing is very much part of what has made Silicon Valley survive,"
      said Garth Saloner, co-director of the Center for Entrepreneurial
      Studies at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

      Many people became millionaires only on paper in the dot-com
      explosion, then lost that status when the tech stock sector crashed
      and the value of their holdings dwindled to little or nothing. But
      some young executives who did cash in couldn't stay out of the game
      for long.

      Mark Pincus, who co-founded Freeloader Inc. in the early 1990s, tried
      to relax after the Internet company was bought for $38 million in
      1996. For a year, he got up each morning with no responsibilities. He
      remembers sitting on his deck on weekday afternoons and drinking beer
      with random people he had just met.

      "You think you're in heaven, but you're really in hell," he said.

      Pincus eventually decided that the lifestyle didn't suit him, so he
      called his old partners and they started brainstorming.

      He compared the experience to being in a band that had broken up. His
      buddies, who had also just been killing time, were eager to start a
      new act.

      One of their projects became tribe.net, a social-networking site.
      Pincus ran the company, then left it, and then started running it

      "You can sit around and do nothing and go to the beach," he
      said, "But after a while, you realize you're not engaged with the
      world. That's what is fun about life."

      Godhwani said selling his company, which helped small businesses
      improve their websites, gave him "more money than I ever dreamed of."

      He decided to rejoin the workforce anyway. But several of his friends
      who cashed in on the dot-com boom of the late 1990s were paralyzed by
      the choices of how to spend their time.

      "They had immense confusion about what they were supposed to do, and
      a number of them got terribly depressed," he said. "But it's not the
      kind of thing where you get a lot of sympathy."

      This melancholy is not uncommon in Silicon Valley, where many people
      define themselves by their jobs, said Stephen Goldbart, co-director
      of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute in the Marin County town of

      "Sudden wealth syndrome" — that's how Goldbart and his colleagues
      describe the depression and confusion many entrepreneurs face when
      they achieve financial success and realize it doesn't guarantee

      "They ask, 'Now that I've made it and money is no longer a driver,
      what is the meaning and purpose of my life?' " he said.

      His institute has offered classes that teach these entrepreneurs how
      to relax and adapt to not working grueling hours toward a sole

      The condition isn't limited to Silicon Valley. Microsoft Corp.
      created many millionaires who keep founding tech companies in the
      Seattle area. Hollywood is filled with filmmakers such as Clint
      Eastwood who keep directing and producing, though they could have
      retired years earlier, and some rich athletes such as Michael Jordan
      have struggled to leave the game.

      "What brings an actor back to the stage when he's 70 years old?" said
      William F. Miller, a professor emeritus at Stanford who himself could
      have stopped working long ago but is still going strong. "It's the
      sense of making an impact."

      But second acts are so common in Silicon Valley because the venture
      capital that pours into the region creates seemingly infinite
      opportunities, said Miller, who co-edited "The Silicon Valley Edge: A
      Habitat for Innovation and Entrepreneurship."

      The temptation to build a new business lured Craig Donato back from
      the wilderness — literally.

      One of the first employees of the search engine Excite in 1995,
      Donato left the company in 2000, built a cabin in the mountains near
      Lake Tahoe and spent time with his children. He eventually got
      restless and joined a start-up. It fizzled, but he tried again. Now,
      at 40, he's the chief executive and co-founder of Oodle Inc., a San
      Mateo-based firm that has developed a "shopping engine" for
      classified ads. "I need to channel my energy into some sort of
      obsession," he said.

      Some channel their energies into pursuits far from the tech business.
      Former EBay Inc. President Jeffrey Skoll's company produces films
      that promote social change, including "Syriana" and "An Inconvenient

      James Currier, who founded quiz website Emode.com in 1999 and ran the
      company after Monster.com bought it in 2004, now uses the Internet to
      inspire people to get involved in causes related to healthcare,
      education and philanthropy.

      Currier says he's motivated by the entrepreneurial exhilaration he
      draws from his new undertaking, and by a passion that drives him to
      always do more. "You want the next thing to be bigger than the last,"
      he said.

      And then there are people like Dan Lockwood who simply have better
      things to do than work. He made it big during the dot-com boom but is
      now happy to spend time with family and friends away from boardrooms,
      fluorescent lights and the rat race. The 39-year-old former techie
      lives in San Francisco with his wife and three young children on the
      money he made from selling his stake in the company he worked for,
      Juniper Networks Inc.

      While sitting in traffic on his way to Juniper's Sunnyvale office one
      morning, he had an "existential moment." He wondered why he was
      pushing himself so hard and missing his family when he didn't really
      need the money. He decided to stop working, because he could.

      He feels pressure to keep achieving and doesn't know what to say when
      people ask what he does. Usually he changes the subject.

      He doesn't regret his decision.

      "Are you defined by your job title and what you do?" he asked. "Or
      are you willing to take your ability not to work and go explore other

      He keeps busy by working on art projects and by golfing, skiing and
      kite-surfing. Some days he wakes up and thinks it's time to return to
      the working world. But he can't imagine making that move when he's
      got the resources to say no.

      "The wind comes up at 3," he said. "I don't want to be in a place
      where the wind comes up and I'm looking at the water and saying, 'Why
      am I not kite-surfing today?' "
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