THEN: 1993 Sales: $30 million
A 50-square-foot basement in Worthington, Ohio, may not seem like the most auspicious location for an electronic payment processing service. Indeed, when former fitness club manager Pete Kight started Checkfree Corp. in January 1981, nobody--family, friends and industry experts included--thought the business would succeed.
But Kight proved them all wrong. By 1993, the business boasted 1,200 corporate clients and handled $3 billion in payments annually. Better yet, Checkfree was at the forefront of an emerging market--what's now called financial electronic commerce--and was fast becoming known as the industry leader. Kight's big dream: "to offer people the power to manage their personal finances electronically."
NOW: 1996 Sales: $120 million plus
Kight no longer has to dream. Today, finances are just one thing people are managing electronically--and Checkfree Corp. is the reason why. How did Kight's big dream come true? Going public in September 1995 enabled Checkfree to acquire its number-two competitor, Norcross, Georgia-based Servantis Systems Inc. (SSI), the banking industry's leading provider of electronic funds transfer software, in 1996. By the time electronic banking really took off and banks began seeking out electronic funds transfer software and hardware, Checkfree was the provider of choice.
Now Kight is cashing in. Checkfree's client roster has grown to 1.3 million customers, and the company, now in Norcross, Georgia, handles more than $25 billion in payments every year. And that's not all: Kight has a new dream--one that could forever eliminate the dreaded phrase "The check's in the mail." The company is working on a product to deliver bills and statements to customers via e-mail, enabling them to pay on screen and have the funds automatically deducted from their checking accounts. "There's no reason to write out paper checks anymore," contends Kight, 40.
Believe it or not, even with partnerships with nine of the nation's top 10 banks--among them Chase Manhattan and Wells Fargo--and 1,500 employees at seven regional offices nationwide, Kight says, "We still have people who look at us and think we're too small to pull all this off." That's OK--the naysayers keep Kight's ego in check--or balance, as the case may be.