Empire of Pixels
Name: Jack Levin
Location: Silicon Valley
In a life filled with numbers--gigabytes, unique visitors, dollars--there's one in particular that defines Jack Levin's life: 20.
In 2005, when Google's IPO hit the NASDAQ, Levin, who was the tech behemoth's employee No. 20, hit it very, very big. But the Russian immigrant, who moved with his family to Missouri in 1991, wasn't ready to retire early.
"I was only 30 at the time of the IPO, and it didn't make sense to sit and look at the clouds," he says. "I decided I'm going to do what I'm good at."
So he left Google and took the reins of Imageshack, an image-hosting web service he and his brother Alexander (the founder of WordPress) dreamed up and developed in 2004. "At first when he told me about the project, I asked him, 'How are you going to make money if you're giving away space and bandwidth? It's so expensive,'" Levin says. "He said, 'I'll try and see what works,' and within a month, he had spent $80 and made $200. I figured if we could multiply this by 1,000 or 10,000, we would have a viable business."
It turned out to be more than viable--Imageshack, which gets most of its revenue through targeted advertising, now employs 10 people and runs 600 servers. It gets 50 million unique visitors each month and more than 12 million page views a day. One estimate put sales at $56 million a year.
But the company is also becoming a technology platform. In February, Levin launched Y-Frog, an application that uses Imageshack to allow Twitter users to add images to their posts.
"I believe we've captured 90 to 95 percent of the mobile market already," Levin says. "Our software comes bundled with some of the most popular iPhone applications. If you've ever shared a photo on your phone, you've probably used us."
Levin isn't in the business to make money. In fact, he says he's never taken a dime from Imageshack, which he and his brother own 80 percent of. Instead, he hopes to build Imageshack into a company with the clout of Google or YouTube. His experience at Google, Levin says, gave him the skills to run a complex technology efficiently, with low overhead and minimal disruption. This helps him think about pushing Imageshack to a new level. "We can take big risks and be entrepreneurial. We can afford to fail, but we were set up to succeed from the get-go."
At the same time, Levin isn't afraid to enjoy his success. "I certainly love running my business--it makes my day," he says. "But I'm definitely not a workaholic."
"Unlike other people that might come to money, I'm not interested in celebrity status or being well-known," he says. "Enjoying my family and enjoying my kids are my No. 1 things."
Jason Daley is a freelance writer based in madison, wis.
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.