Tripp Rackley was headed for a Gen X dream job: rock star. His college band, Mercy Me, headlined raucous shows on college campuses across the South. But after graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1992, Rackley sensed an impending cultural shift: that computer whizzes, not musicians, would be the rock stars of the 21st century.
Rackley, now 29, first landed at a financial technology firm, helping banks automate their labyrinthine back-end operations. By 1995, Rackley, who first used the Internet in 1992, had divined the wired future. He would build Net-based software that linked consumers directly to banks--letting them check balances, pay bills, and make transfers between accounts.
With three Georgia Tech buddies, Rackley founded Atlanta-based nFront in mid-1996. His pals did the programming, while Rackley tested his pop-star persuasion on risk-wary bank presidents--most of them twice his age. Soaking up $20,000 from Rackley's personal savings, nFront struggled to land bank customers amid consumers' concerns about financial privacy on the Net. The first client came in late 1996, but it was still a battle. "People would look at me like I was a nutcase," says Rackley, his hair already turned a dull salt-and-pepper gray.
Some nutcase. As the Net took off and consumers' fears receded, banks clamored to offer Web transactions. A $3 million venture-capital boost came in 1998, helping nFront woo 40 clients that year. Each typically paid $50,000 in startup costs, and $2.50 per online user per month.
The numbers zoomed in 1999. More than 160 small banks, and 33,000 customers, now use software from the 120-employee nFront. Despite revenues of just $5 million and a raft of new competitors, a June public offering netted nFront $32.5 million, while Rackley's share has risen to $40 million. "I would rather be an entrepreneur than a rock star," he deadpans. "I like the challenge." Hey, it's only rock 'n' roll.