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Once Upon A Time

They used to work for Disney. Now they're the happiest corporate dropouts on earth.

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This story appears in the February 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Recently, alumni of The Walt Disney Company who've hurdled to Internet success--like Edward "Toby" Lenk, founder of eToys, and David Hodess, founder of Cooking.com--have made the entrepreneurial world wonder what Disney's putting in its water cooler. Start-up fever hasn't quite reached epidemic proportions, but the number of Disney innovators forfeiting their posts to launch solo careers is on the rise.

Jake Winebaum, former president of Walt Disney Magazine Publishing, founder of Disney Online and chairman of Disney's Buena Vista Internet Group, started and ran Disney.com, ABCNews.com, ESPN.com and Go.com for the media giant. Although already an old hand at start-ups pre-Disney (he founded FamilyFun and FamilyPC magazines and sold them to Disney in 1992), Winebaum, 40, says the company's entrepreneurial vibe reinforced his love for building companies from scratch. "The process of launching businesses within Disney is not dissimilar to the process you go through when you try to get funding on the outside," he says. From pitching an idea to influential executives to getting financial support from Disney's strategic planning group, the mechanics closely parallel creating a business plan and finding angel or venture capital.

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