There Ought To Be A Law

Warning! Serial Entrepreneur At Large

Name: Jeff Jacober

Number of companies started: 11

Age: 46

Height: 5'8'

Weight: 178 lbs.

Hair color/eye color: gray/brown

Distinguishing characteristic: Thinning on top due to "years of worrying about the wrong things"

Last seen: Sailing out of Nantucket Harbor, cell phone in hand, his PR rep says--but when could he possibly have time to sail?

"I feel more comfortable starting companies where I can relate to the product because I'm a consumer and a customer," says Jacober.

Like Rothenberg, Jacober was always the first person to use his own product. His business career began at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, where he made $10,000 marketing sportswear to fraternities and sororities. It continued after college with a T-shirt company in 1981. Then he formed SGI Inc., which mostly printed canvas sports bags and was bringing in$29 million in annual sales by 1991. While running SGI, he briefly owned a company that manufactured life jackets, and another that made backyard water slides.

Eventually SGI was sold, and Jacober used his $13 million in proceeds to sail the Caribbean. But soon he was going stir-crazy without a company to run. His next idea came from circumstances no one would envy. Ocean Diagnostics Inc., which he started in 1995, manufactured a home health test that allowed consumers to self-diagnose various diseases and body function problems. In 1993, Jacober had donated a kidney to his brother who'd had chronic kidney failure. "The home test wouldn't have changed the outcome, but it would have helped him diagnose [the problem] sooner," says Jacober. "A year later, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer--a home test would have revealed that."

After Jacober sold Ocean Diagnostics, he created The Ocean Group, a Providence, Rhode Island, business incubator designed to shelter several of his ideas at once. Currently, Jacober is owner or co-owner of five companies, which collectively brought in $10 million last year.

It can be a confusing arrangement. Jacober has made telephone calls and used the wrong company's name. He used to give out the wrong business cards until he created one that reads "The Ocean Group" and lists the five companies underneath. Still, he insists, "Staying somewhat disorganized is the secret to my success. I like doing multiple things at one time--that's what turns me on and challenges me."

So is all the work worth it? It depends. "It's extraordinarily rewarding," says Jacober. "But you have to be prepared to work hard and devote a huge portion of your life to do this. It takes a toll, personally and physically. It takes time away from your family and your friends and your life. You need to be committed."

Still, serial entrepreneurship does get easier with experience. Just ask Jacober. He doesn't flinch at the notion of having created 20 or 30 companies by the time he retires. But he does flinch at the thought of retirement: "I'll probably even turn retirement into a business, if I can."

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 February 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: There Ought To Be A Law.

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