Crash Course

What Now?

Sudden success won't just affect your company; it's bound to affect you. You'll have some questions to answer, sooner rather than later. How many extra hours should you work? What sort of car will you buy with that new wad of cash?

Jeff Kennedy, 41, is the president and CFO of Sight & Sound Software, a Portland, Oregon, company that designs Web technology for the travel industry. His biggest clients are Wal-Mart and American Airlines. Sight & Sound started in 1994 and made $20,000 that first year. By 1995, Kennedy and his partner, Mark Tilden, 44, were bringing in $100,000--not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but Kennedy notes he could start buying groceries regularly again. In 1996, American Airlines hired Kennedy and Tilden's company "to devise a disk-based direct-dial product that allowed American's customers to make their own air, car and hotel reservations."

That may be Greek to all of us, but this won't be: In 1996, the partners made about $500,000, a 400 percent jump.

American Airlines liked Sight & Sound's product so much, it asked Kennedy and Tilden to create the booking engine for its Web site. "When we heard we had the contract to build the booking engine for http://www.aa.com, Mark and I just sat there for a minute, stunned," says Kennedy. "We knew it was huge, that it would change everything. We looked at each other and grinned. I leaned a little too far back in my surplus office chair and fell over. All I could think about was a good, stiff drink."

Sight & Sound has since hired 25 employees and has experienced an 865 percent growth rate over the past five years, bringing in $4 million this past year. Which, among other things, means Kennedy has had to put off taking a European vacation with his wife. In fact, he says, "it's very difficult for me to justify taking more than a week off."

But Kennedy insists that even the busiest and most successful entrepreneurs need to take care of themselves. So he takes a lot of three-day weekends and two-day getaways, even if it's just to a Holiday Inn in downtown Portland.

Sudden success means your own bank account will likely swell, too, notes Rob Elliott, senior executive vice president of Bessemer Trust, a New York City wealth management firm. And his company, of course, would only be too happy to help you with your finances. But Elliott makes a good point: "You do have a responsibility to think very seriously about your wealth and how it will impact you, your spouse, your children and your society." We suggest you think about that while driving your new Lexus.

Contact Sources

Bessemer Trust, (212) 708-1900, elliot@bessemer.com

Sight & Sound Software, http://www.sight-n-sound.com

Wood Family Enterprises, (800) 456-0851

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Crash Course.

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