Kim Polese Ceo, Marimba

Three years ago, Kim Polese was an unknown product marketing manager tucked away in the boiler room at Sun Microsystems Inc. Now, as chief executive of Internet startup Marimba Inc., she lunches with Vice-President Al Gore and ranks as the only computer industry executive on Time Magazine's list of the 25 most influential people in America.

Polese's rise from obscurity to the nose-bleed zone has to be a recordbreaker even for Silicon Valley. How did she do it? A combination of smarts, aggressiveness, and good timing.

Polese, 35, became a household name on the Net when she popularized Sun's Java computer programming language. That's the white-hot technology -- unveiled two years ago -- that is designed to allow software developers to write their programs once and have them run on any kind of computer.

She made the leap into entrepreneurship early last year when she and three partners quit their jobs to create Marimba (they just thought it was a catchy name), one of the first companies established to ride the Java wave. (Marimba makes Castanet, a technology that corporations and publishers can use to broadcast information to computer users via the Web). "I'm the kind of person who needs to be in a wild,

seat-of-the-pants-type organization," Polese says.

She also knows how to mix with the suits, however. Polese was invited into Gore's high-tech brain trust thanks to her connections with Silicon Valley venture capitalist/political operator John Doerr. Just last month, she was onstage with Gore at a family and education conference in Nashville to demonstrate the prototype of "Education Dashboard," a way to link students, teachers, and parents via the Web.

Polese may be smart, but so far she ain't rich. She and her partners robbed their piggy banks to invest $15,000 each in Marimba. To pay for startup costs, they raised $4 million from Doerr's venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. But, unlike the leaders of some other notable Internet startups such as Netscape Inc.and Yahoo Inc., Marimba's founders are in no hurry to go public. ETA for the IPO: late 1998. When it comes to financial planning, says Polese, "we're very methodical and conservative."