In a Class by Themselves
Harvard grads saw green beyond the ivy
It's happening on campuses nationwide: Students are skipping classes to start companies, entering the real world of business even before they get their undergraduate degrees.
Take the eight Harvard University alumni pictured here (along with Rajeev Goel, a Johns Hopkins student). Even before picking up their parchments less than a year ago, each had had a hand in starting one of three Internet companies: chipshot.com Corp., a maker and marketer of custom golf clubs; Idiom Technologies, which translates and redesigns Web sites for foreign markets; and Crimson Solutions Inc., which supplies university career-counseling offices with placement software and services. All are gaining sales and adding employees -- chipshot has hit $1 million in revenues and is negotiating a second round of venture capital. Idiom and Crimson are close to their own deals with financiers.
Even in a class of 2,000, these tyro leaders found each other: in computer-science classes, on the golf course, during internships, in the dorms. Idiom's Eric Silberstein did some early work for chipshot and might have ended up there. Instead, he joined with Susan Cheng, whom he met (along with Crimson cofounder Wellie Chao) through a volunteer program at local schools. No hard feelings at chipshot; it became Idiom's first client.
Naturally, the management at these companies is collegial. While someone has to be CEO -- at Crimson, it's already a professional outsider -- teamwork is the norm. "We're not big ego people," avows Nick Mehta, chipshot's marketing director. "It's pretty collaborative."
It's a grand adventure, too, getting past naysayers and starting up on shoestrings. To get a foreign-language demo site up, Silberstein once sat in Harvard Yard with a laptop, offering guided tours in exchange for translation. Now, he can afford real translators.
The diplomas? Well, they make nice decorations.
By Edith Updike in New York
This article was originally published in the Mar. 29, 1999 print edition of Business Week's Enterprise.