We Knew Them When

They were just upstarts when we first featured them in the pages of Entrepreneur, but now they've become big names. Revisit entrepreneurs from the past 30 years who have since become seriously successful.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the May 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ben and Mena Trott, both 29
Six Apart

THEN: It's been only two years since pioneering blog business Six Apart first appeared in Entrepreneur. The Trotts had just bought out popular blog provider LiveJournal and were earning kudos for their in-house Movable Type product.

NOW: Since their days as a two-person startup, Mena and Ben have turned San Francisco-based Six Apart into an international company. "Ultimately, it's passion that has kept us in the business of blogging and has helped us grow the company," says Mena. Since mid-2005, the Trotts have doubled their employee base and launched Movable Type Enterprise and Vox, a next-generation blogging service. Says Mena, "We firmly believe that everyone on the internet will eventually be blogging. Our goal is to build the best and easiest-to-use products to make that happen." --A.C.K.

David Liu, 41

THEN: Founder Liu talked to us in 2000 about the challenges of finding office space to accommodate the explosion in his number of employees--from 28 to 200 in one year.

NOW: Today, TheKnot.com dominates the wedding website landscape, having just acquired WeddingChannel.com in September 2006. Crediting his New York City company's success to its talented staff, Liu is now looking to grow its $72.7 million in sales by entering two new markets: In 2005, the company launched TheNest.com for newlyweds, which branched out into a magazine last year; and a site for new parents is planned for the first half of 2007. "The identity of the company, even as we get larger, remains very entrepreneurial," says Liu. "We stuck with our business plan--we didn't waver." --N.L.T.

Reed Hastings, 46

THEN: Netflix's subscription service launched a couple of years before founder Hastings was profiled in Entrepreneur in 2002. The Los Gatos, California, company was just beginning what would be a phenomenal growth cycle.

NOW: Fast shipping, tons of choices and a powerful movie recommendation system have helped propel Netflix to the top of the DVD pile. In 2001, Netflix's sales were $76 million. In 2006, sales were $980 million. In 2001, it had 600,000 subscribers; today it has 6.3 million. In 2001, it offered 11,500 DVD titles; today it offers 70,000. After innovating in the DVD-by-mail market, Hastings now plans to "expand the business to deliver movies to whatever viewing device consumers want while increasing margin and profit." The company's newest service component, currently in rollout, will allow users to access movies over the internet. --A.C.K.

Colin Angle, 39, Helen Greiner, 39, and Rodney Brooks, 52

THEN: When iRobot graced our pages in 2003, Roomba the vacuum-cleaning robot was just getting out of the starting gate. With a healthy $50 million in projected sales that year, iRobot was poised to become a leading robotics provider with--quite literally--a household name.

NOW: iRobot brought in $55 million in just the third quarter of 2006 alone. But the company measures its success in machines, not dollars. More than two million Roombas have been sold, and the Burlington, Massachusetts-based company's industrial-strength PackBots are busy helping keep soldiers safer in the field. "We're not here just to make great prototypes. We're here to make robots a practical and financial reality," says CEO and co-founder Angle, whose company is fulfilling its mission of bringing robots to the mainstream. --A.C.K.

Sara Blakely, 36
Spanx Inc.

THEN: In 2000, when Blakely first launched Spanx and its line of control-top, footless pantyhose, she was "on a mission to make the world a better place, one butt at a time." A year later we reported on the product's immediate success, which had already led to a patent and a deal with Neiman Marcus.

NOW: Spanx has since taken coverage beyond the behind with a collection of slimming pants, skirts, tops and intimates. The Atlanta company has grown in other ways, too: expanding to a team of 50, selling internationally and exceeding $100 million in retail sales for 2006. And in October 2006, Blakely started The Sara Blakely Foundation to help women globally through education and entrepreneurship. Says Blakely, "Now I'm on a mission to make the world better, one woman at a time." --L.H.

John Katzman, 47
The Princeton Review

THEN: The Princeton Review had just started franchising when we first featured Katzman and his educational preparation company in 1987. The company's first book had just been published, and Katzman was just starting to feel secure that the business he'd started in 1981 with $3,000 would make it.

NOW: The New York City company, which Entrepreneur partners with to compile our annual ranking of colleges for entrepreneurs, offers preparation courses for the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT and more. The company has published hundreds of books, has franchises in 12 countries and has even become involved in school reform at the K-12 level. About half of all U.S. college students seek out The Princeton Review's services, and the company's 2006 sales exceeded $100 million. Says Katzman, "Finding ways to be a great global company is our priority over the next decade." --S.W.

Carl Brown, 35, Daymond John, 35, J. Alexander Martin, 35, and Keith Perrin, 35
FUBU the Collection

THEN: In 1998, when FUBU first graced our pages, the 6-year-old New York City company and its founders had already proved to the banks that rejected them that they would have been worth the risk. Their line of men's, women's and boys' clothing had spread nationwide, they had plans to expand their offerings, and they were going for the gold with projected year-end sales of $200 million.

NOW: FUBU the Collection is a globally recognized brand with more than 100 retail stores in countries around the world. It has become the umbrella company for nine other lines, including Drunknmunky. FUBU has expanded into footwear, activewear, formal attire and more, all of which contributed to last year's sales of $375 million. John, who revealed the company's startup story in his recent book, Display of Power, says, "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing." --S.W.

Larry Flax, 64, and Rick Rosenfield, 61
California Pizza Kitchen

THEN: California Pizza Kitchen was only a year old and its concept of an upscale, innovative pizza restaurant was completely unique when we featured CPK in 1986. With just two locations, the founders already had grand visions. "We intend to set the new standard for pizza," Flax said.

NOW: Since Flax made that declaration, CPK's store design and company logo have undergone facelifts, the company has exploded to 206 locations worldwide, and it has partnered with Kraft Pizza Co. to develop a line of frozen pizzas. All that action added up to $556 million in restaurant sales last year. In 2000, CPK went public, and last year it became the official pizza at Dodger Stadium. "Twenty years ago, we had only our vision," says Rosenfield. "Today we have validation for the vision." --S.W.

Bert Jacobs, 42, and John Jacobs, 39
Life Is Good

THEN: We first profiled John and Bert Jacobs in 2001, when the brothers' line of life-affirming T-shirts was making $3.1 million annually. In 2005, when sales were $40 million, we extolled their word-of-mouth marketing savvy.

NOW: These Boston entrepreneurs have exploded sales to $80 million while extending their product lines to hats, bags, footwear and even pet products. Bert and John also launched their Genuine Neighborhood Shoppes program in 2003 to enable local, independent retailers to sell the entire Life Is Good line exclusively; today there are 45 retailers and 30 more in the works. With the company's recent expansion into home goods and international distribution, Bert says the message is the same: "People crave simplicity and find optimism refreshing." --N.L.T.

Eric Baker and Jeff Fluhr, both 33

THEN: In 2004, we covered the online marketplace for secondary event tickets co-founded by Baker and Fluhr. In 2006, we spotlighted how Fluhr had taken the company to $200 million in sales.

NOW: Fluhr grew StubHub.com so successfully that eBay acquired the company for $307 million earlier this year. Baker branched out in 2005 to launch Viagogo.com, an online secondary ticket marketplace for Europe-based events. "It was amazing to see the tremendous growth," says Baker from his London locale. "StubHub has become a brand name, and secondary ticketing has become mainstream. The concept is not uniquely American, so there was a great opportunity to pioneer this industry in Europe." --N.L.T. In 2004, we covered the online marketplace for secondary event tickets co-founded by Baker and Fluhr. In 2006, we spotlighted how Fluhr had taken the company to $200 million in sales.

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