Charlie Kim remembers he woke up with a bleeding nose for 60 days straight in 2002--he counted. The stress of his e-commerce company, Next Jump, sliding to insolvency--the eviction notices, the personal lawsuits--was physically torturing him. For his health and sanity, Kim should have considered walking away, like many of his competitors.
Instead, he stayed. And today, Kim may be one of the most successful entrepreneurs you have never heard of. His Next Jump is small, with only 200 employees. It is privately held and does not disclose financials (though he says revenue is "in the billions"). Kim has declined offers in the billions of dollars to buy him out.
Kim's Next Jump Commitment
Kim listened to the sage advice he got from his mentor, Kevin Parker, a former top executive with Deutsche Bank: Stay in business. When you do what you can to keep your doors open, your competitors fold. You pick up their customers, and that makes it a little easier to survive and, eventually, thrive.
But it wasn't easy. Charlie started the company from his dorm at Tufts in the mid-'90s. He had a girlfriend in New Hampshire, and long-distance phone bills were running several hundred dollars a month; he went into business to help defray the cost.
It was a simple idea--he persuaded merchants to buy advertising in directories that he distributed on campus, similar to the old Yellow Pages. Then he created the same stuff for individual companies, branding it with their logo.
Kim raised $15 million in capital from about a hundred angels and grew to 150 employees. He stopped the paper directories and went online--another booming technology company in the dot-com era. Life was good. He had offices in New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; and San Francisco.
Then came the great dot-com bust, and the sky caved in. He went from 150 employees to four. And he couldn’t afford to pay those four. He was nine months behind in his rent. Half a dozen eviction notices piled up in his mail. Debtors sued him personally because the company had no money.
That’s when his physical ailments started to appear.
His creditors could have forced him into bankruptcy, so he begged, cajoled, promised and did what he could to avoid this. He was creative and persuasive. He noticed that there was empty space in his building and was able to convince his landlord that an IOU from him was better than what he could get by foreclosing.
And, with his loyal team, he set out to build his company all over again. He was opportunistic, buying out customer lists and relationships for less than a million dollars from a top competitor that folded. He used this base to grow more than 25 percent annually, and in 2013 growth topped 100 percent! Today, Next Jump is the giant in the field, with more than 700 of the Fortune 1000 as his clients and well over 30,000 participating merchants.
Perhaps Kim won’t be under the radar to much longer. After all, as Kipling writes:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
Kim held on when heart and nerve and sinew were gone, and now the universe is befriending him.