Bill Martin took the bus from Manhattan to his parents' home in New Jersey every evening while working as a summer clerk at Wall Street's prestigious investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. During the grueling commute, he'd muse over the day's events. It was mid-1996, and many young entrepreneurs, some just a few years older than he, came traipsing through the offices on 85 Broad St. in New York City looking for investment banking services or to launch an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on Nasdaq or another stock market. "I used to get them coffee or a Coke," says Martin. "I thought 'Hey, I can do [what they do].' "
He started thinking up business plans on the bus. Finally, he came up with an idea he liked: Create an Internet service that focuses on financial news and stock quotes. Offer users a message board so they can chat with each other about hot stocks or financial news. Sell advertising. Make money. It was as simple as that. Or so he thought.
That fall, back at the University of Virginia, Martin and a college buddy, Greg Wright, cobbled together a primitive Web site (http://www.ragingbull.com). When the site started attracting interest, they brought on another college friend, Rusty Szurek. By mid-1998, the site had some 8,000 registered users-but no money. The partners worked 20 hours a day, blew off classes continually and didn't make a dime. "We were crazy to keep doing it," admits Martin.
Crazy? Eventually, the tireless effort began to pay off. Clients like Ditek Financial, a mortgage services firm, began to advertise. The company was also courting investment offers from Acton, Massachusetts, financial company CMGI Inc.-the same firm that financed Internet success stories Lycos Inc. and Geocities.
By fall 1998, Martin, Wright and Szurek, all 21, decided not to return to college for their senior year. "We were still negotiating the [CMGI] deal," explains Martin. A few weeks after the start of the fall semester, the deal was done. CMGI's @venture II Fund gave the partners $2 million in exchange for 40 percent ownership of Raging Bull Inc. in Andover, Massachusetts.
Gene Koprowski (email@example.com) covers technology for Entrepreneur and The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition. He is producing a series for PBS/WCEU-TV called Digital Visionaries.