Sacrificial Rites

Running A One-Man Show

After starting two companies before age 25, Jonah Steinhart, now 26, has finally figured out exactly how much he can sacrifice for his own business: nothing. In 1998, Steinhart and fellow twenty-something Stanford graduates Charles Katz, Mike Slemmer and Kelly Peterson incorporated 1stUp.com, a free Internet access provider for portals like Lycos and AltaVista. They sold a majority share of it to global Internet operating and development company CMGI in 1999, and the founders took executive positions at 1stUp. But while making payroll is no longer an issue for the founders, Steinhart says running his own business for nearly two years straight made even his parents worry.

A year went by where Steinhart barely saw his folks. And on the rare occasions he did pay a visit, it was hard for anyone to deny he wasn't there in spirit. "It's sort of the classic case of code-pendents who get in relationships where they commit themselves so fully that certain parts of the rest of their lives start to suffer," he says. "I was so intense in my mind in terms of my work that, in terms of my ability to interact with the real world, I was a little bit nuts." He'd take breaks and go out for drinks, but he couldn't stop troubleshooting even then.

"When I [started 1stUp], I had no idea what I was getting myself into," says Steinhart. Being fitted for a mouth guard because stress was causing him to grind his teeth at night was an indication something wasn't right. "I see investment bankers who commit themselves to their jobs with the same level of fervor for 15 years and walk away with $500 million," he says. "But at what cost?"

Steinhart learned running his own business just wasn't worth it if it meant losing pieces of himself along the way. But the experience did show him he can do anything he sets his mind to-and he has. Steinhart left 1stUp in November to earn his teaching credential. (Unrelated to Steinhart's departure, 1stUp ceased operations December 10.)

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sacrificial Rites.

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