Darren T. Kimura, 33
Energy Industries, Honolulu
Projected 2008 sales: $16 million
Description: Energy project developer focused on efficiency and renewable solutions
Living large: Darren T. Kimura hasn't wasted a single day of his life. Only 33, he's the founder of a 14-year-old company that has earned millions by helping commercial and industrial clients drastically reduce their energy consumption. With clients throughout the Northwest and plans to expand quickly in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Kimura simply doesn't have time to waste. "This is a global business that we're growing, and there are global opportunities," he says. "Energy conservation is one of the very few things that you can do in every part of this world."
Before his time: Now hailed as a visionary, Kimura remembers all too well when others simply deemed him crazy. Green is the buzzword today, but getting others to see the light more than a decade ago was a battle he initially fought solo by running the business out of the back of his car and selling women's shoes to supplement his income. Now, with traditional energy sources dwindling and demand for alternatives growing, Kimura's team of one has grown to 90 dedicated employees.
Go for the green: Before he could grow his business, Kimura had to grow up. To do so, he bid adieu to his earrings and surfboard and started speaking more professionally. When he was unable to get financial backing for the first seven years, Kimura financed his company completely on credit cards: "Having to live that every single day and constantly struggle with it really teaches you a lot about budgets and growing companies."
Follow his lead: Got an idea that others call crazy? Stick to it, and people might just call you a genius one day.
What is your secret to success?
Kimura: It's about working very hard and always learning. You have to be a lifelong learner. I have been doing this for 15 years, but I haven't even come close to achieving any level of wisdom, and I don't think I ever will. I work a long day. I work maybe 14 to 17 hours a day, five days a week and a few hours on Saturday as well. I get up extremely early and I stay at work very late. And I'm constantly reading and trying to digest information because there are so many new things happening all of the time. I enjoy kind of putting myself out there, whether it's for the good or for the bad. Those are opportunities to learn and improve, so I think that's the secret for me. I thrive on competition. I enjoy it and I love it. I love to try to become the best at whatever I'm doing, and I just work very hard at that as well.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Kimura: I really believe now that I should have paid more attention in school. At the time, I was running the business, so I really didn't pay attention at all. It was basically just get a degree and get out. In hindsight, I've come to appreciate the importance of an MBA, especially now that I hire almost exclusively people with MBAs. I find that their wisdom and their experience is great. And stay humble. You have to know who you are, because that drives where you are going to be, the person you're going to be. You have to give back to the community. I do a lot of public service now, especially because I can. It's not all about wealth. It's about success around you as well.
When did you know you'd "made it"?
Kimura: It hasn't happened yet. I'm still working at it.
What was the first toy or reward you bought for yourself when you became successful?
Kimura: I don't think that I've ever done that. Everything that I have is about work. I try to think of the most [utilitarian] things, because that's important to making me more successful in my work. This also links back to the previous question. When I get there, I'll let you know.