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The Hot Action in Financial Tech

OptionsXpress and a slew of other small outfits are springing up around Chicago's exchanges

When optionsXpress (OXPS), an online brokerage firm, was launched in late 2000, the timing was atrocious. The tech-centric Nasdaq market was tanking, and early-stage funders of dot-com startups were running scared. The company's founders, three Chicago options traders, were roundly rebuffed by venture capitalists, forcing them to raise their first $3 million on their own, from friends, family, and other traders.

That forced them to spend modestly. They also didn't feel pressure from VC financiers looking to cash out in a quick initial public offering. Today, optionsXpress Holdings is a publicly traded success story with a market value of $1.6 billion, nearly $250 million in annual revenue, and 250 employees. Yet old habits die hard. "We're still focused on using technology and local resources to be extremely efficient," says the company's 38-year-old chief executive, David A. Fisher.