Karsten Schneider felt like the doors to an Orwellian prison had been flung open when the Berlin Wall collapsed. Eager to find a job with a Western employer where merit would be rewarded, the 29-year-old engineer sent out 80 applications from his home in Jena, East Germany. But he received one rejection letter after another. In desperation, Schneider teamed up with a fellow engineer to start a software company.
It turned out to be a fast-track to capitalist success. Their company, Intershop, has become a global leader in e-commerce software. Revenues this year are expected to hit $55 million. Its market capitalization, after going public on Germany's Neuer Markt in July, 1998, is $1.9 billion. That makes Schneider worth a cool $95 million.
Schneider and partner Stephan Schambach launched their business in 1992 as licensees for Steven P. Jobs's NeXT Computer. Their big break came in 1995, when German wholesaler Computer2000 hired Intershop to develop e-commerce software and sell 13,000 products on the Net.
Overnight, Intershop became one of the world's biggest e-commerce businesses. International Data Corp. ranks it No. 3 globally by sales of e-commerce software. This accomplishment is especially impressive considering the collapse of the Soviet system was hastened by a technology gap with the West.
Schneider is one of the few who has succeeded in seeding 21st-century jobs in the rubble of the East's economy. He believes the coming decade will produce more such success stories. "Capitalism has taken on a radically different meaning for a hungry new breed of technology-savvy graduates," he says. For them, survival means building on the Web revolution, not breaching the Wall.