Partying On in D.C. and Online
By Olga Kharif
While the rest of us shiver through this frosty winter, the business scene remains hot, with big names busy hatching new plans. Here's this week's sampling:
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. Ever since their newfound fame, starting work at 5:30 a.m. has become the norm for JibJab creators Gregg and Evan Spiridellis. The brothers' funny Web animations about the Presidential campaign were viewed more than 80 million times -- once by astronauts on the space station. They earned the Spiridellises, who have previously made cartoons for Kraft's (KFT ) and Sony's (SNE ) marketing campaigns and illustrated a children's book by rapper LL Cool J, a spot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But it seems the brothers' hot streak has just begun.
The two are working on a pilot animated TV show, Gregg Spiridellis dishes to BusinessWeek Online. And they have just released their newest, inauguration-related spoof. Called Second Term!, it debuted Jan. 19 on JibJab.com and Yahoo! (YHOO ).
The theme song is set to the tune of She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain, and the animation features President Bush playing a banjo, while conservatives, liberals, Hollywood activists, and dysfunctional world leaders duke it out for power and influence wearing ridiculous outfits. In the case of Veep Dick Cheney, it's swim trunks. Not a pretty picture.
ALWAYS A CEO. Dave Schaeffer is an example of a wonder kid turning out all right. The founder and CEO of Internet service provider Cogent Communications (COI ), which owns one of the world's largest Internet communications networks (corporations use these to provide employees with Web access), enrolled in college at 12. At 18, he finished his PhD dissertation in economics, focusing on the impact of technological change on East-West relations.
That same year, he started a taxi company, the first of seven successful businesses to date. "I've never had to write a résumé, I've never had a job other than being a CEO," he tells BusinessWeek Online.
Since the dot-com bubble burst, Cogent, started by Schaeffer five years ago, has bought up the networks of 13 other dying Internet service providers (ISPs) that had spent $5 billion building their infrastucture. The price? Schaefer says he actually managed to get paid for acquiring them. Partly through acquisitions -- four in 2004 alone -- Cogent's revenues have grown 800% over the past three years as it works to catch up to larger rival MCI (MCIP ).
With debt down and Cogent due to become profitable this year, Schaeffer is also considering filing for a secondary offering of stock. Today, 99% of the shares are held by insiders. And he's just getting started: Schaeffer is still in his 40s.
BURGERS AND A FLOAT. Tom Mears, president of a 39-restaurant West Coast fast-food chain called Burgerville USA, is bummed that neither of his two kids is interested in the family business. So as Mears, 63, is starting to think about retiring, he just might take his Oregon- and Washington-based chain public, he says.
Plenty of investors are already interested. One reason: Even though it's competing with big players like McDonald's (MCD ) and Wendy's (WEN ), Burgerville increased its sales 6% last year and plans to keep growth simmering by adding outlets around Seattle.
The chain appeals to the Left Coast's environmentally conscious folks by using green building design for its restaurants and organic ingredients in its kitchens. Could this be another McCormick & Schmick's (MSSR ) -- a West Coast seafood restaurant chain that's publicly traded? Who knows, but Mears says he has already run his IPO idea past William McCormick.
"REALLY BASIC THINGS." Bill Joy, who co-founded Sun Microsystems (SUNW ), has just dived into a new venture (see BW Online, 1/19/05, "Kleiner Perkins Jumps for Joy"). On Jan. 18, the executive known as "the Edison of the Net" (and one of the main developers of open-source software) became a full partner in venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The outfit financed the likes of Amazon.com (AMZN ), America Online -- and, yes, Sun. Joy, who holds more than 40 patents, will help dozens of the firm's startups make it in the tough post-bubble world.
The move to KPCB made sense: "This is the firm I know best, I'm friends with several partners," Joy tells BusinessWeek Online. And the firm doesn't pursue the latest crazes, like commercial space exploration, he adds. "There are lots of problems we can solve in the world by doing some really basic things," says Joy, who plans to focus on computers and semiconductors. "It's meat and potatoes kind of stuff. I've always tried to work on practical things."
Kharif is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Portland, Ore.
Edited by Thane Peterson