Whiz Biz Kids

Dallas' young entrepreneurs live by their creed: Just do it.


This is how you start a business in Dallas: over coffee at Starbucks.

Carter pulls his Lexus SUV into a spot in front of the store and grabs his briefcase, Apple titanium laptop and Treo 600 phone/PDA/lifeline. These are the tools of an entrepreneur like Carter, 33, who sells or starts or runs or consults for small businesses every day. Always on call, always reachable, wired and ready. He and seemingly every laptop-carrying employee in Big D like doing business at these coffee shops. The stores are quiet, omnipresent and, most important, they have wi-fi.

While he's waiting for his 3 p.m. appointment, Carter--and the four other people in this Starbucks with laptops--can check their e-mail or browse the Web. When he's in a hurry, Carter has been known to pull into a Starbucks parking space close enough to penetrate the store's wireless network, pull out his laptop, download or send important messages and speed away. For the wi-fi entrepreneur, lattes are the least important item on the menu.

Gabriel Goncalves took a biz solution for one company and turned it into a different successful company.
Mark Graham
Gabriel Goncalves took a biz solution for one company and turned it into a different successful company.
Calvin Carter, YEO prez: "I'm inspired by inspiration."
Mark Graham
Calvin Carter, YEO prez: "I'm inspired by inspiration."

This is our second Starbucks meeting in Carter's whirlwind day. Many of the discussions are off the record, as Carter shares proprietary information about his core businesses. His many interests are why we've already sat in on a high-powered networking breakfast, discussed a partnership with a real estate agent, toured a Preston Hollow property under reconstruction, had a working lunch to discuss health-care costs for YEO members' companies and previewed a new client's Web site launch.

His portfolio and résumé mean he's constantly giving or receiving sensitive information. Which is why when his future business partner arrives to discuss the new venture they want to launch, Carter assures him that this paper won't divulge any secrets. But to hell with that. This is the Dallas Observer. Divulging is our raison d'être. So let's just come out and say it: The new business Carter and his partner are about to launch involves a little something called "the Internet."

"Here's our dilemma," Carter tells Derek Wilson, CEO of NeoSpire (an enterprise that has nothing to do with the company they're trying to start) and a fellow YEO member. He tells Wilson that the core problem, if not addressed, could cause visitors to their new business' site to be transferred to another site when they purchase their products--meaning customers will have to make an effort to return to the URL if they want to buy more items. They can fix this, meaning multiple purchases of their products can be made on their site, but the solution will take at least $2,000 and delay the launch two weeks or more.

Now comes the test: Which decision do you make? Of course, you take the extra time, spend the money and make it right. Right?

Wrong.

"Let's just launch it," Wilson says, "and see what happens. Then we'll go from there."

Again, just do it.

If you have an idea, make it happen. No matter the risk. No matter the odds. It's a risky, usually depressing way to spend your days. (One reason so many entrepreneurs are always-smiling rah-rah types--if they weren't, they'd split their skulls with a ball peen about once a month.)

Sounds easy. But you gotta have an idea. Let's take an example: Gabriel Goncalves.

Goncalves--born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, got his green card in 1993 and a week later started his first business--was working on his second enterprise a few years ago, an IT company that had clients all over the country. (Having multiple companies is not unusual for an entrepreneur. They are usually better at starting companies than running them once they achieve a certain level of success. Often, they sell them and start over.) Goncalves was having a hard time finding and keeping good IT technicians. So he turned to YEO, which put him in touch with a consultant specializing in the relatively new field of industrial psychology. Loosely, this is the science of analyzing a company's "top performers," finding which character traits lead to their success and then constructing tests that allow an employer to find people with the same qualities.

"The results were amazing," Goncalves says. "We dramatically reduced turnover and hired better people."

It wasn't until he talked to his managers that he realized there was a problem. They didn't like the consultant. They didn't understand his method; they felt they had too little say in the hiring process. The entrepreneurial light went off: Goncalves realized that if he could develop unique software for each client that not only determined which were the best candidates to hire but also was understood by top management, he could tap into an undiscovered market. From that would flow black gold, Texas tea.

He sold his business and set out to learn all he could about industrial psychology. He discovered that two of the best programs in the country were in Texas at Rice University and Texas A&M. He cold-called the heads of both departments, drove to meet each of them with little money left and only his idea for a company. He all but begged them to help create his software. They agreed. Now, PeopleAnswers, the company he created, counts Quicken Loans, Neiman Marcus, Michael's and Texas Instruments as clients.

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