Selling out. It's taboo in so many social circles. But in business, it's practically en vogue. Ever since independent innovations in software and Internet spaces became prey for tech manufacturers and Internet portals seeking increased brand power, the minds behind them have willingly begun to accept a lump sum--of cash, stock or salary at a new corporate job (complete with high-walled cubicle)--in exchange for their contribution to technological advancement.
And don't forget the white-hot selling-out-to-the-public-to-raise-tons-of-money-and-maybe-get-rich method, where the founders of Private No More Co. can still claim ownership--along with a bevy of shareholders. Now no one's saying it's right or wrong. But aside from the fact that this trend is altering the strict definition of "entrepreneur," some insiders fear wealth-centric temptations--primarily of the IPO sort--will lead to business plans devoid of substance and multimillion-dollar ad campaigns backing shoddy products. To investigate whether the old-fashioned entrepreneurial ethic of starting up for the sake of autonomy rather than making obscene amounts of money overnight still exists, we asked several young current and former business owners what motivated them. If anything, our findings were refreshing.
Granted, our test sample is small. But to our surprise, the one entrepreneur who actually admitted to selling his company for the riches involved isn't the power-hungry playboy-type you'd imagine him to be. We can't numerically define Jayson Adams' wealth--but let's just say, despite retirement a month before his 30th birthday, the now-33-year-old will be very well-off in life. The Stanford grad's "How He Got There" story didn't climax until he sold his 1995 start-up Netcode Corp., creator of a Java-based interface builder and object toolkit for developing Java applications, to Netscape in the spring of 1996. Before that, Adams co-founded a software company and an e-mail-based subscription news service "way ahead of its time," which sold for practically nothing in 1995 after suffering a lackluster response. But the wanna-be tech game participant started at 12, when Adams taught himself to program the family computer. By 16, Bill Gates was his idol. Taking a company public was also on the teenager's to-do list. "I didn't want to be a super-powerful person," he says. "[Gates] wasn't even that powerful back then. I was just very excited about computers and had lots of fun making them do cool things. It was that, plus not wanting to work for 40 years."
Something besides work is exactly what the undisclosed amount of wealth has allowed Adams to do. Rather than surrender the remainder of his life to high-tech's hyperspeed world as so many do to satisfy their competitive urges, Adams has been spending most of his time in Santa Monica, California, studying guitar and music theory at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. A recent Time article insinuated that an overabundance of time and money has turned Adams into a somewhat spacey, anti-employment techno-phobe. Not the case. Don't be surprised if you see this "pretty down-to-earth" guy, who owns no property and considers the "high life" pursuing his interests, launch "a media empire" exploring the best of art and music in the future.
"Whatever I do start will not be a high-tech company," says Adams. "Working at Netscape after the acquisition, I'd see people worth tens of millions of dollars working insane hours, not seeing their kids. What's the point, really?"