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GoldMine Software's founders worked out of bug-infested digs.

They started as two guys in a two-bedroom apartment, making phone calls, writing computer code, and working hard to convince their bulked-up neighbor that they were doing nothing illegal. GoldMine Software Corp. (#154), now with 100 employees and revenues north of $20 million, was founded in 1989 by Jon V. Ferrara and Elan Susser. The two had met 10 years earlier in a calculus course. Ferrara, a computer and math jock, thought there'd be a market for business software that would take advantage of computer networks. Susser, an electrical engineer, had a similar venture in mind. Eventually, the two abandoned corporate life and set up shop in an apartment in Woodland Hills, Calif. "I'd get up, make the coffee, sit at the desk, open up the yellow pages, and start making calls," recalls Ferrara. "I built the customer base while Elan wrote the code."

The software was designed to help a company speak with one voice, connecting the employees who dealt with the same customer account. To attract customers, Susser and Ferrara decided they needed to piggyback on someone else's selling shoulders. "I started cold-calling Novell resellers," Ferrara says. "I figured that if I could get a copy into their hands, they would use it, and if they used it, they'd recommend it."

To make those calls, the pair had just two phone lines. So they made a deal with their next-door neighbor: they paid for her to get an extra line and drilled a hole through the wall. Not long after, a large gentleman showed up at the door, recalls Ferrara. "He said, 'What are you doing to my mom? What are you doing in there, dealing drugs?" They tried to explain, but the bounceresque type stopped them. Hey, he knew GoldMine. He used it in his office.

As sales picked up the two needed help. But what kind of company works where it sleeps? Ever image-conscious, Susser and Ferrara conducted their first sets of job interviews at a nearby Marriott. After two years in business, GoldMine had grown to $852,000 in sales, with six employees and a real office. Not that it always felt like one. Brenda Christensen, who joined GoldMine in the early days, recalls accompanying Susser to Toys 'R' Us, dropping $150, and spending the rest of the day dodging Nerf balls and ducking squirt-gun spray. The offices weren't plush; there was a bit of a wasp problem. "I remember putting people on hold and screaming for somebody to come spray," Christensen recalls.

GoldMine's digs are much better now. The company even takes employees and families on retreats to Catalina Island. Back when it was just the two of them, the duo once went to the beach near Santa Monica. They bought a postcard with a view of the ocean, which they stuck on the refrigerator in their apartment. "We saw it every day when we went to get the macaroni and cheese," Ferrara says. "And in '93, we moved into a building that had that view. People surf on their lunch break. From my office, I can see dolphins. It's amazing what watching dolphins swim will do for your psyche."