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Interview day saw Hans Koch, the co-founder of Owners.com, celebrating with partner Jack Reibling their San Francisco "for sale by owner" home-listing firm's third anniversary as a Web service. A three-tier cake there was not--but "donut holes in the kitchen" were available for the taking. Isn't humbleness in the face of a huge near-future endearing?

Although he's proud of the kudos Owners.com has received (being recognized as one of PC Magazine's "Top 100 Web sites" from fall 1997 to mid-1998 and all), Koch's ego is in check. "We had five people [he now employs 30], and were being considered on the same level as Amazon.com," he says of the PC Magazine honor. "We don't have [their] resources, [but] there continues to be a lot of pressure to perform at the level of our publicly traded counterparts with [huge] staffs."

Koch's been into business since age 6, when he sold seeds around his neighborhood. "That company wasn't big," he says. "I think I made $1.25 that summer." His fascination for real estate began at age 9, when a year of home-schooling coincided with his parents building an addition to their house. The curious youngster hung out with the contractors--observing, making suggestions. Throughout high school and college, Koch volunteered to help planning and development committees in his southwest Michigan hometown with real estate projects. He honed his entrepreneurial skills with a car-detailing business that helped pay for college.

After gaining post-college exposure to Silicon Valley highs and lows while working for "one of the biggest retail developers in the country," Koch and engineering buff Reibling were inspired to make their mark. They sought to replace what real estate agents saw as their primary value to the consumer with home-selling tools and data available online.

Owners.com, which profits from home-selling packages and transaction fees, debuted on the Web in 1996. Working 150-hour weeks, Koch and Reibling, both 30, built the company to its current state: a listing database of nearly 250,000 homes with a growth rate of 400 percent over last year.

Says Koch, "While [real estate agents] may be, have been, will be, upset with [us] bringing services directly to the consumer at a discount, the consumers benefit. If we've shaken things up, well then, good."

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