Imagine Henry Ford leaving Ford to start another car company, or Walt Disney establishing a realm beyond the Magic Kingdom. Trip Hawkins (who counts these two men among his heroes) has essentially done just that. He built Electronic Arts, of John Madden Football fame, into a powerhouse -- then left it to start another business (which failed) and now another (which, thanks to ever-shifting industry forces, is likely to compete with EA).

Hawkins originally left EA to focus his energies on a start-up he had launched called 3DO, which was trying to devise a better gaming console. Hawkins had hoped that his former firm would grant him exclusive rights to a hot new game, thus securing 3DO's future. But after Sony unveiled the PlayStation in 1994, EA kept 3DO at arm's length. "Chip manufacturing is expensive and political," Hawkins says. "I should have known a company with deep pockets like Sony could pull the rug out from under us." Eventually 3DO went bankrupt.

Hawkins, now 51, shook off 3DO's failure and soon launched another company, called Digital Chocolate. "D-Choc," as he refers to it, creates games for cell phones. So far, over three million D-Choc programs have been downloaded. The company, which raised $20 million in financing, grossed $4 million last year. Some observers have wondered whether mobile gaming, with its rudimentary graphics, represents a technological retreat for Hawkins, but he says no. Others suggest that D-Choc's prospects depend on how aggressively his old pals at EA enter the mobile gaming market. "I expect them to enter more directly either this year or next," Hawkins says, but "rather than fight with them for market share, we are trying to blaze new trails." Of his reverse entrepreneurial journey from industry icon to upstart, he adds: "It's like being an explorer who discovered North America and then found out, hey, there's South America and Antarctica, too."

Lora Kolodny