Porsches and baby booties. The stuff of great, early wealth.
From: A Magazine
There’s a lonely stretch of track between Westlake Drive and Yaupon Valley Road. Called Laurel Valley Road, that’s where Joshua Baer is most at home in his black 2006 911 Carrera 4S.
Twisting through Baer’s favorite cedar-lined road, shoulders are pulled back and hair flies as the gears are changed on his latest four-wheeled acquisition. A lot could be said about sleek lines and mocha-colored leather interior. Buy, hey, it’s a $120,000 Porsche. Excellence comes standard.
Baer owns four Porsches – one is a Cayenne SUV – and he’s quite pragmatic about it. Eleven years after founding Skylist Inc. in his dorm room, Baer has sold, and is able to move to the next level in the finer things.
“It’s like an amplifier,” he says. “ I was into wines and Porsches before it happened.” He was already into Joseph Phelps wines, for example, but now he can go for the label’s $125 signature blend, Insignia. He is also one of the first 100 buyers of the to-be-released Tesla, the first all-electric car that will give 250 miles a day. It was $100,000 up front.
“I’ve been able to buy the Tesla. I was able to buy my parents’ house…and that was a good feeling,” he says.
But don’t misunderstand. Baer is not a foolish 31-year-old flush with cash. He has broken down his winnings to traditional investments, entrepreneurial ventures and the fun stuff. And he maxes out his 401K every year.
He sold email-list provider Skylist and UnsubCentral, Inc., to Datran Media Corp. last year. UnsubCentral helps email-marketing companies comply with regulatory requirements. He doesn’t see himself retiring, but continuing the path he’s begun of backing innovative businesses, like Greenling.com, an organic grocery delivery service in town. He remains at Datran as chief technology officer.
Two pairs of shoes for a total of $900. That was Neelan Choksi’s biggest splurge after the sell-off of SolarMetric Inc., the company in which he was a founder. But, he stresses, there was a practical need – walking on the hilly streets of San Francisco.
“I think having a daughter at that time was a little bit of a wake-up call,” he says. At one point, then- 20-month-old Maya travels by on tiptoes to check in with mom, Sharon Burns Choksi. She gets the appropriate attention for a plump-cheeked cherub, then gets scooped up by Neelan Choksi’s mom, Geeta Choksi, and carried off.
While he won’t say how much he benefited from the sale to publicly held BEA Systems Inc. in 2005, he concedes that, “It wasn’t enough for retirement, but it’s a huge amount for financial security.”
The biggest impact for the family of three was that Mom was able to stay home. Senior brand manager for small and medium businesses at Dell, Burns Choksi was definitely in the mix. But: “Dell isn’t a 40-an-hour-a-week job,” says Neelan Choksi.
“You were continually feeling guilty,” Choksi tells his wife. “You were working, coming home, seeing Maya, putting her to bed, and then working some more.”
“I felt like I wasn’t putting in enough to get the job done,” she says.
Dell was generous enough to let Burns Choksi work part-time, but that created a new set of problems. She was no longer making the impact in the company to which she was accustomed. So, she decided to stay home. And the sell-off allowed that to happen. Today, she appears in trousers and lip gloss, an ensemble she admits would probably not show up on days when there are no guests. She’s too busy playing with her daughter.
Choksi drives a 1996 Toyota Corolla, a relic from Burns Choksi’s days in Chicago. It’s banged up, but it runs, and it’s parked in a comfortable little university street that backs into a park with wading pool and playscapes. Welcome to the world of the Choksis. Not what you would expect from an entrepreneur who sold off his part in a wildly successful 4-year-old business that solved Java data access problems.
Burns Choksi and Choksi are well grounded in their philosophy about money.
Interestingly, Choksi’s philosophy comes in part from two of his life experiences. He’s an Eagle Scout, and that speaks to his well-regarded integrity. And he was a high-stakes gambler. That’s right. The daddy of 23-month-old Maya at one time counted cards in Vegas.
He was a leader on the MIT Blackjack Team, “basic MIT nerds,” he jokes, playing cards for investors. He was playing $3,200 a round, 90 rounds an hour.
This little excursion paid for MBA school at University of Chicago, and taught him some valuable lessons about people and arrogance.
“The guys with the money were kind of jerks,” says Choksi. “It kind of kept my head on about money. That’s not the kind of guy I wanted to be. That’s not the kind of father I wanted to be.”
Today, he is chief operating officer and senior vice president for The Americas with Amsterdam-based Interface21, which helps make enterprise Java developers more productive and makes the applications that they develop perform better. And he doesn’t see himself going anywhere else.
Brett Hurt, the father of 2 ½-year-old Rachel, who blesses the screen of his laptop in a princess costume, works out every morning, either doing cardio or weights, then does a couple of hours of work while chatting with Rachel. Then when he gets home at about 6, 6:30 p.m., he spends more time with his little girl.
“It keeps me balanced,” he says about the way his life unfolds each day.
He’s made some pretty good decisions along the way. Five companies launched, all businesses he loved, and now, he could come into significant dollars in the future. Both businesses that he is a part of – Bazaarvoice, Inc., of which he is founder and CEO, and Coremetrics, which he founded and in which he still has an interest – are spectacularly successful. But, as is central to the Being of Brett, he is separate and analytical about it all. He and wife, Debra, have agreed that they are going to invest 90 percent of their dollars when that day comes. The rest would go to new ventures.
Choksi, Hurt and Baer clearly have good heads on their shoulders. Some entrepreneurs don’t.
“You have a few million at your disposal and you can see it as a situation that can be easily replicated,” says Carmelo Gordian, partner with Andrews Kurth LLP, which was founded in Houston 105 years ago. “And they find it’s not so easily replicated. Sometimes it is brilliance, and brilliance breeds brilliance. Sometimes, it’s just timing.”
The trick is recognizing the difference, he says.
He advises that entrepreneurs flush with cash preserve some of the capital in a way that gives them greater flexibility.
About good business models, he says: “There is no sure thing out there and if there was, everybody would be doing it.”