Meet thirty Texas multimedia whizzes under thirty. One of them could be the next Michael Dell.
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We’ve all heard of Texas’ high-tech heroes—we’re thinking, for instance, of a certain personal- computer mogul—but who will be their successors, the household names of tomorrow? To find out, we e-mailed more than three hundred of the state’s multimedia professionals and asked them to pick the industry’s heavyweights-in-waiting, men and women on the cusp of celebrity. Specifically, we asked for power players in six areas of the industry: game developers, software developers, Web designers, company builders, Internet-service providers, and 3-D artists. The only catch was that they had to be under thirty; this is, after all, a business in which youth trumps experience.
The response was overwhelming—and, thankfully, the same names cropped up over and over. That unanimity became the basis for the list that follows. As you’ll see, our selections have much more on their résumés than “hates to wear a suit.” They have big-name clients, great ideas, quantifiable talent, and—that currency of the moment—buzz. Some could soon move onto bigger and better deals and leave our state, but that’s the biz. Get acquainted with them while you can. Who knows? One could be the next Michael Dell.
CircumStance Design—Big Hand, Dallas
Tim Barber, 29 Creative Director
David Bliss, 27 Technical Director
The setup After graduating from college in 1994, they founded the experimental design studio CircumStance Design, which later merged with rival Big Hand.
What they do CD-ROMs (James Cameron’s Titanic Explorer, Barbie Screen Styler, the sneak preview for X-Files: The Game) and Web sites (Neiman Marcus, Fox Sports Games, Amnesty International).
How they look “One of us will bleach his hair out to a bright white; the other will opt for something darker,” Barber says. “We’re a design firm with entertainment clients. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we were stodgy and uninteresting-looking.”
Luis Borromeo, 21 Internet Developer
Patrick Curry, 19 Human Interface Engineer
Dynamic duo Borromeo and Curry were sixteen and fourteen, respectively, when they started their own Web-site design company, ZFI, in 1994. At first they worked out of Curry’s bedroom at his parents house. “After trying to meet with a client there,” Curry says, “I realized that the bed was not a good conference table.” Luckily Borromeo had a driver’s license, so they began to meet clients at nearby cafes. In 1997, after the Web site they created for frogdesign won a Clio—the advertising industry’s equivalent of an Oscar—frogdesign acquired ZFI. Now their clients include Disney and Adidas.
Wham! Holy Cow! Ouch! When Borromeo is in frogdesign’s San Francisco outpost, he and Curry mount a company-wide deathmatch game of Quake: Left Coast vs. Third Coast.
Virtually There, Fort Worth
Corbin Broesche, 24 Senior Account Executive
R. Jeffrey Ireland, 24 President
Stephen P. Kinch, 25 Director of Production
Alex D. Seleny, 25 Vice President
What they do Web-site development, hosting, management, marketing, consulting—you name it. Clients include the Bass Performance Hall, La Madeleine, and Pier 1 Imports.
Will work for pizza A few months after they leased their first space in 1997, they worked out a barter deal with Mr. Gatti’s: Some of the money they earned for hosting the Mr. Gatti’s Pizza Web site went to paying their pizza tab.
They’re not Apple Don’t accuse them of spare beginnings. “We didn’t start in a garage,” Seleny says. “We started in a converted office above a garage.”
Andrew Busey 27
Way back in 1993, he created one of the earliest Internet portals. He was the first Net employee at Spyglass, the product manager for Mosaic (the first commercial Web browser), the instigator of Spyglass-Microsoft discussions that led to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and the founder of ichat, later renamed Acuity, whose online customer-service software is used by more than two thousand clients, including AT&T and IBM. His latest venture is an as-yet-unnamed Web-based e-commerce company set to launch in July.
A good sport An Eagle scout, he’s a lover of techno-gadgets, the stock market, and certain avocations. “I’m starting to get into golf and tennis,” he says, “but it’s slow going. Especially golf. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
id Software, Mesquite
John Carmack 28 Co-founder, Co-owner, Lead Programmer
He got games Carmack holds high-tech’s joystick. Id pretty much created the 3-D game genre, and he’s the most accomplished technical director in the biz, the brains behind Doom, Doom II, Quake, and Quake II—games that have sold more than $100 million in the U.S. on the PC format alone. Any wonder that he was a millionaire by age 23? Of course, in this business these days, that kind of money is chump change.
What’s next? More Ferraris—he already owns three—and a new 3-D game release, Quake III Arena.
Davin Carten, 28 Creative Director
Jason Fellman, 26 President
Steve Golab, 25 Chief Financial Officer
Casey Gum, 25 Creative Director
What they do Create multimedia business-to-business communications products such as CD-ROMs for training courses. They founded the company when they were barely of legal-drinking age, which made it hard to sell themselves as experts. Not anymore; their clients include Microsoft and Dell.
Sounds like a FOX sitcom One plays guitar, another plays drums, another says he sings show tunes, and another screws up clichés (“hook, sink, and ladder”).
What’s next? They’ll double the size of their staff, to seventy, by next year.
Atension, San Antonio
Sheridan Chambers, 23 CEO
Dan Cornell, 22 Vice President, Software Development
Tyson Weihs, 23 Vice President, Operations
Untangling the Web They develop homepages, create efficient work flow, and tweak online shopping sites for small Texas businesses like Ties.com and Baseball Express (the latter credits Atension with building a site so right-on that it receives a few million hits a month). Revenues were about $330,000 in 1998, up nearly 350 percent from ‘97.
Toga! Toga! Their office is a cross between a frat house and the floor of the New York Stock Exchange; true to form, they attack projects with the enthusiasm of kids around a keg.
KTSM-TV, El Paso
Gilbert Chavarria, 27 Head 3-D Animator
The adman cometh In addition to creating graphics and animation for the NBC affiliate’s nightly newscasts, Chavarria is an animator and Web designer who has worked on advertising spots for clients like Tony Lama Boots. Last year, the weekly newspaper El Paso Inc. named him one of the area’s top five Web designers.
Yo quiero biographical details He’s a self-described computer geek, a pack rat, a toy freak, and a devotee of a certain fast-food chain: “I have this intense fascination with Taco Bell that I don’t think people really understand.”
Tim Heckler, 27 Co-founder, CEO
Sean Stoner, 29 Co-founder, Director of Technology
Don’t touch that dial-up Hypercon has been voted the best Internet-service provider three years in a row by readers of the Houston Press. Clients include Texaco, Perot Systems, and Microsoft Sidewalk Houston.
School ties Heckler and Stoner have known each other since they were kids, when they attended St. Thomas Episcopal School; many of their employees went there too.
Not hyper The work environment is laid-back. Stoner preaches the Southwest Airlines philosophy: If your employees are happy, your customers will benefit.
Christina Jones, 29 Founder, President
How she started Jones co-founded the Austin software company Trilogy in 1989. Seven years later, at age 26, she traded in her stock to launch pcOrder, an online platform for sellers of computers and software.
Order up Jones made a deal last September with wholesale distributor Ingram Micro to get access to a network of brand-name PC makers, including Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. That same month, pcOrder filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell shares to the public. (No date is set for the offering.) According to the filing, the company’s revenues were $9.6 million during the first half of 1998. Maybe that’s why she made the cover of Forbes last November.
Bloodshot Entertainment, Dallas
Sverre Kvernmo, 27 Lead Level Designer
Jonathan Wright, 27 Lead Programmer
Let the games begin These guys know how to play; Kvernmo, a native Norwegian, was the United Kingdom’s Doom deathmatch champion in 1995, and Wright fancies himself the ultimate Ultima fanatic. But they also know how to work—and they’ve had to: When they were at Dallas’ ION Storm, they were principals on the team that worked on the year’s most hotly anticipated game, Daikatana.
Blow a fiery kiss good-bye In November they packed up their toys, took nine other ION Stormers with them, and started their own game development company. Their first project is based on the exploits of the seventies megagroup Kiss. Rock on!
Web-Hed Technologies, San Antonio
Janie Martinez-Gonzalez, 26 President, Project Manager
.community A creator and host of Web sites, Martinez-Gonzalez deserves more than her share of good karma: In addition to working with an organization called Project Bridge that teaches underprivileged kids from San Antonio’s West Side about computers, she configured the server that houses the site for public television station KLRN; she also maintains the server for Salsa.Net, a nonprofit consortium promoting awareness of the Internet and working to bring improved telecommunications to the San Antonio area.
May the force be with him Martinez-Gonzalez’s infant son is named Anakin, as in Anakin Skywalker—Darth Vader’s birth name.
Human Code, Austin
Yehudi Mercado, 25 Concept Designer, Character Animator
Drawing raves The self-described animation junkie has five major game titles under his belt, including the Schoolhouse Rock series, Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart Adventures 6th Grade, and Hasbro Interactive’s Girl Talk. Now he has his first original concept in the works, a problem-solving game for young girls called First Daughter. “I love pencils and sketchpads,” he says. “There’s nothing more rewarding than filling up a blank sketchbook and looking back through it.”
Dress code He wears shorts every day (even on his wedding day last May, when he wore them with a tuxedo jacket). A month after he returned from his honeymoon, Human Code officially recognized shorts as suitable attire for work.
Rachel Muir, 27 Founder, Executive Director
You go, girl She has made a career of educating girls about technology. Her nonprofit SmartGrrls—founded in 1997 in the living room of her apartment—finds college-age women to teach semester-long courses in Web-page building to girls in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Muir develops the curriculum in collaboration with graduate students in math and sciences at the University of Texas, recruits the volunteers, and applies for grant money (she’s raised $140,000 so far). And, yes, she’s moved into a real office.
What, no Bit-o-Honey? Students who do well receive Smarties. “It’s the SmartGrrls candy of choice,” Muir says.
NewTek, San Antonio
Brad Peebler, 29 Vice President, Marketing
It’s the software, stupid Peebler hit the big time when he oversaw the creation of LightWave 3D, the best-selling animation program in the film, video, and broadcast business. You can see it at work in the movies (Titanic, Men in Black), on TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess), and in commercials for companies like Carnival Cruise Lines and M&Ms. “You know those little M&M guys?” he asks. “They aren’t real.” Is that so?
His brilliant career “We’ll be watching a show that uses LightWave extensively,” Peebler says, “and they’ll often cut to a commercial break consisting of three or four LightWave-generated commercials back to back. We always high-five when that happens.”
AllGood Media, Dallas
Heath Stallings, 28 President
Team player Although three Web sites he designed have been nominated for Cool Site of the Year awards, Stallings is refreshingly ego-free, insisting that Net work means teamwork. Okay: He and his team have worked with a roster of clients that includes Disney, Capitol Records, VH1, and Sony.
Home sweet homepage Recently, Stallings has begun sharing his talents with anyone who has Internet access and some cash. How does it work? Log on to allgoodmedia.com, pay $60 to $150, and you can create your own customized Web site by following simple instructions.
Clothes make the man To win a bet, Stallings once showed up for an interview at the MTV Beach House wearing a pink sundress.
Road Runner, El Paso
Brian Wancho, 24 El Paso Online Editor
Beep, beep Wancho created the first El Pasospecific Web search engine and a local news archive for Road Runner, a high-speed online service providing community information; it’s quickly becoming one of the region’s most visited Web sites. On his own he has written Web programming for the ABC-TV affiliate, run a Web design company, and created several Web sites, including one for the El Paso Mission Trail Association. For his next project, he’s working with the local 911 office to provide up-to-the-minute online traffic and police information.
He wants candy “Above all else,” Wancho says, “I have a weakness for sour Gummy Worms.”
Gathering of Developers, Dallas
Mike Wilson, 28 Co-founder, CEO
GOD squad Gathering of Developers is a computer and video game publishing company that is an umbrella group for some of the industry’s hottest game developers, such as 3D Realms, Edge of Reality, and Epic MegaGames. Wilson is happy to let them be the marquee talent: “I run a ‘record label’ where the big rock stars don’t drink, do drugs, or even date much.” Revenge of the nerd! Previously, Wilson had been CEO of ION Storm, development director at Dwango, and marketing director at id Software. Not bad for a guy who spent his teen years hunched over a Dungeons & Dragons board.
Generation Tech: Thirty-Somethings
Four who just missed the cut.
Ed Cavazos Senior Vice President/General Counsel
An attorney who specializes in cyberspace. Has taught law at both UT-Austin and the University of Houston. Co-author of Cyberspace and the Law: Your Rights and Duties in the On-Line World (MIT Press).
Trilogy Development Group, Austin
Joe Liemandt Co-founder/President
Enterprise software guru, self-made multimillionaire, and past member of the Forbes 400.
Whole Foods Market, Austin
Rachel Nation Webmaster
Designs and programs the company’s intranet and Web site, as well as an in-store interactive kiosk for customers.
Atomic Pictures, San Antonio
Charles Self Producer
Brokers computer animation and visual-effects deals with clients like Coca-Cola and Ford Motor Company.