You could call him a vulture. Or perhaps Mr. Death. In past interviews, Jim Nesfield has referred to himself a "modern-day pirate"; he told us that he's a "Machiavellian creature of the dark." Whatever you call him, pray he doesn't call on you-especially if you're an entrepreneur with a dotcom company.
Nesfield's business, based out of his home office in Nags Head, North Carolina, is called Cardinal Internet Workout Group. That sounds amicable enough. But as Nesfield, 42, puts it, he works in the "distressed and bankrupt field." He hunts for weak Internet companies and convinces investors to buy the firms and either restructure the companies or sell their most lucrative assets, which admittedly is nicer than crashing and burning completely unnoticed. Meanwhile, Nesfield takes "about 20 percent of the upside" and has created an organization worth $10 million.
When you go after these dying dotcoms, what exactly are you searching for?
Nesfield: We go looking for deals on liquidations. If we think there's an asset we want, we'll come in and try to get the whole piece. Then we can source out pieces we don't want at cost to get rid of them. We're not necessarily hot on furniture and computers. It's not about the furniture: It's about intellectual property and the customer lists.
Do you feel any remorse or pity for the failing companies?
Nesfield: Nah. In the experience I've had with these failing companies, there are a lot of brilliant, gifted people, but they tend not to be the guys running the companies-they're the guys working for the companies. A lot of the people who ran those companies are crooks, outright liars. [Many others were] misinformed and got caught up in the dotcom "enthusiasm," if you will. They still think they're going to become billionaires. And I'm not saying they shouldn't be, either. I mean, I think it'd be great if every 21-year-old kid had a Ferrari, personally. But the bottom line is, the world doesn't work that way.
Your image is that of a modern-day pirate, which you obviously embrace. Is there any way to do your job without that image?
Nesfield: I work for my investors. I want my investors to know I love them. I get up in the morning, and I live and die for them. If you had guys running the dotcoms who had that kind of passion for investors-for excellence-you wouldn't have all this [bankruptcy] stuff.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.