Bright young entrepreneurs show their mettle at F.ounders conference

 

IT WAS wall-to-wall testosterone at the third annual F.ounders conference for a select group of web-based entrepreneurs at the Nasdaq’s MarketSite on Times Square yesterday.

With an average age of about 30 (deemed “old” by many of them) multi-millionaires and even a few billionaires bonded with the would-be millionaires, all from the global tech start-up community, over their shared love of ideas, technology, business and the internet.

In the same way some parents watching Wimbledon storm out to buy a tennis racket for their two-year-old thinking they’ll produce a Serena or a Venus Williams, F.ounders is the kind of event that would make you panic that your senior infant isn’t learning how to write computer code yet.

Many, if not most, of the 150 founders present had started their first company while still in their teens.

Take Divyank Turakhia – a 30-year-old entrepreneur from India who started his first company at the age of 16 with $500. Today he employs 800 people across two web-based businesses and has a net worth of about $350 million.

His latest venture, a “contextual advertising” company called media.net, that matches online ads with related web content, is set to take on Google’s ad service when it launches fully later this year. “Google is the only company doing and they make $10 billion a year doing it. It’s a sweet business,” he said over breakfast at the conference. “In the next 12 months we will likely be one of the top 10 ad companies out there,” he added, coolly.

But when you’ve made your first million at the age of 18 and your first hundred million at the age of 23, what’s still driving you at 30?

“It’s more about solving complex problems. That’s what keeps me excited. After a point you don’t care about the money at all. The reality is I would do all of this for free, but then people started paying me for it,” he explained.

Then there’s 35-year-old Frank Thelen from Germany – a self-described “serial entrepreneur” – who launched his latest company, doo.net, at the conference yesterday. “DOO is about the paperless life. It’s a central hub for documents that brings them all together in a pretty smart interface,” he explained, before telling me that even though he’s “really rich” from the sale several of his previous companies his mother still thinks he should get a job.

The appeal of F.ounders for people such as Thelen is that he gets to talk to other people like him. “Everybody here has come close to bankruptcy,” he explains. “It’s better to connect to entrepreneurs who understand you. They know what it’s like to be nervous because they may not make the next pay check. Other people ask you why you don’t just get a job.”

And then there’s the networking.

While the schedule for the conference was based on a series of panel discussions during the day, the real focus of most attendees was on the chance encounters and opportunities for brain storming over a drink in a darkly-lit boutique hotel bar in Soho.

“The smartest of the ideas are with people who are just starting up. People who’ve been in the space long enough have seen everything. When you interact with a lot of really smart people, which is what a forum like this allows you to do: it gives you different thought processes that you haven’t had before. Your biggest threat as a large company is not from another large company. It’s from somebody with no money who has four people working for them and is doing something nobody else thought about.”