Whiz Biz Kids

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

It's just as accurate to say that some of the ridicule these people endure is rooted in jealousy. After all, who doesn't dream of running her own company, of telling The Man where, when and in what fashion he can take his job and shove it? "We're young and dynamic," says Trey Cox, who also heads up Dallas Roundtable, a networking and sales lead group that strives for "one degree of separation" between its members and Dallas-Fort Worth leaders in business, politics and the community. (Cox isn't a member of YEO, because he didn't found his firm; he's a partner in it. But his quote is relevant, and his tie dimple was spot-on.) "But we're intensely focused on [all young businessmen] helping each other."

To further counter charges that Dallas entrepreneurs are a clubby cartel of suits--"It's not a billionaire boy's club with a secret handshake," Carter says--YEOers point to several aspects of the organization, locally and nationally, that help members with their business and their personal life. IOS, for example, puts entrepreneurs in touch with experts in the field when they have business problems. Or personal problems. Like when one member's father had to undergo a unique type of heart surgery. He put in a request to find out more information about it. The next day, Dr. Denton Cooley, founder of the Texas Heart Institute and the man who performed the first successful human heart transplant, called to talk his father through the procedure.

Perhaps not surprisingly, members also act as personal career counselors. Talk to a dozen members in YEO, and they all say that the biggest surprise is the lasting friendships they've made. "At first, I thought YEO was about business learning," says Howard Getson, who endured the forced sale of his business, a divorce and his father's death, all in 1999. He says YEO was crucial to his survival and willingness to start over, to get back on the horse. "But it's about life learning. It's easier to see things in other people than it is to see those problems or solutions in yourself."

Derek Wilson is CEO of NeoSpire--and still looking to start other ventures.
Mark Graham
Derek Wilson is CEO of NeoSpire--and still looking to start other ventures.
Female entrepreneurs like Gina Puente-Brancato, left, and Adrienne Beam say that being women business owners is just one more of many challenges small-biz owners face.
Mark Graham
Female entrepreneurs like Gina Puente-Brancato, left, and Adrienne Beam say that being women business owners is just one more of many challenges small-biz owners face.

"You never consider the depths of friendships you get out of something like that," says Adrienne Beam, who runs her own Web development company, Insite Interactive. "But there are things that you go through that only another entrepreneur can understand."

This is how you start a business in Dallas. You defeat fear and greed.

Getson knew these were his enemies when he started his software company in the late '90s. He was successful but frustrated. He felt that his company made excellent software but that his clients didn't use it properly.

Then, his investors told him to sell his company. They feared the tech bubble would soon burst and that Getson's company had peaked in value. Getson vehemently disagreed. Of course, he was wrong.

This highlighted something to the admittedly then-arrogant entrepreneur: It's hard for humans to analyze many business decisions. Their own greed and fear get in insight's way.

So then he decided he'd start a business in which he was able to develop software for himself. No longer would people misuse his ones and zeros. Using fuzzy logic and neural network programs--artificial intelligence, in other words--he developed a program that would evaluate when to buy and sell futures contracts in the commodities market.

For anyone who's seen the last 20 minutes of Trading Places, you know the commodities market is volatile. And when Getson saw that his software wasn't working like he'd hoped, he asked other entrepreneurs in YEO to evaluate his company. "To help me with my blind spots," he says. They made several suggestions, which led him back to what he already knew: He had to eliminate the human being from making the trading decisions. Errors in data or programming could be fixed, but a person's central flaw never changes.

"The market is real good at punishing ego," Getson says. "Traders like to be right, hate being wrong. So they tend to sell winners too quickly and hold their losers too long. Now we no longer have humans making trading decisions. We have humans making algorithmic decisions." His company's performance since this switch, which was aided by the advice of other entrepreneurs, has been "remarkable," Getson says.

"Most entrepreneurs are very giving of themselves," Carter says. Says Sean Magennis, another YEOer, "In Dallas, you can get a meeting with anyone in one phone call. That's not true in other cities. Here, they want to help you succeed. They know that your success helps everyone. The pie is big enough for everyone to have a slice."

Goncalves buttresses this point with an anecdote. He was trying to decide in which city to open his company's first satellite office. Through YEO, he sought advice from someone with experience in making these decisions. The CEO's advice surprised Goncalves. "He told me that you always screw up the first satellite office. So just make it somewhere close, somewhere cheap to fly to. And he was right. I chose Houston instead of Atlanta, and it was screwed up, but his advice helped me immensely."

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