Sitting back in his tech-swanky SoMa office, Sanjit Biswas, co-founder of a new San Francisco-based wireless venture worth millions, has been asked to spill his guts about his latest extravagant purchases and his wild, Cristal-drenched social life.
Staring up at the ceiling, the 26-year-old tech genius struggles for an answer.
“I guess I get blamed for the Prius as an extravagant purchase,” he says after a long pause. “And I eat less ramen these days. I buy a lot more groceries.”
There you have it: the so-calledprominent life of the Internet rock star.
Like Biswas, who was primed for success when Oracle hired him as an engineer at age 15, many baby-faced Bay Area millionaires say they are not living the lavish lifestyles that were more prevalent during the dot-com boom of yesteryear.
Having grown up watching the U.S. economy rise and fall, many young entrepreneurs are buying high-end electric cars rather than fancy, gas-guzzling sports cars. And they’re not filling up VIP rooms in fancy nightclubs or flying first-class for weekend shopping trips to New York. When they’re not entrenched in 70-hour work weeks, they’re exercising at the gym, picnicking in city parks and stashing their hard-earned cash for the future.
“Time is hard to come by and I’d rather be spending it with friends and family when I’m not working,” he says. “But it’s nice to get a massage once in a while. No big bling, but I definitely appreciate quality, so I’ll spend sometimes a little more on things like a nicer watch or car.”
Biswas, who was primed for success at age 15, says that even though he works six to seven days per week, he still finds time to do his own laundry and has no maid service for his two-bedroom Dolores Park flat. He doesn’t ride around town in limousines, or hang out in VIP sections of ultra-hip clubs. Biswas prefers a walk down the block with his wife for ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery.
“I like to keep it simple,” Biswas says.
Residence: </strong>A large two-bedroom Victorian flat near Dolores Park. "It has an awesome view of downtown San Francisco."
The golden brick road: At age 15, he was the youngest engineer ever to be hired by Oracle. Today he is CEO and co-founder of locally based tech startup Meraki, which was recently pumped with $20 million from investors so it can extend free, broadband Internet access to all San Franciscans — and throughout the world.
Weekly work schedule: 65 to 70 hours, always on call.
On the balance between work and social life: “It certainly helps to work with your friends. A lot of people at Meraki I’ve known for a long time. It kind of feels like work is a social life in some sense. I don’t think I’m a workaholic, I have a lot of fun working and I try to stay balanced. I’ve never worked a 9-to-5, so I don’t really know what that’s like. If there was a fear, it’s a fear of getting stuck on doing something boring.”
Residence: Two-bedroom apartment in SoMa. “The building has a great view, a gym and rock-climbing wall.”
The golden brick road: In one of his first jobs out of college, he managed a 120-unit Days Inn Motel and handled negotiations leading to the $12 million sale of the property. He is currently vice president of Brokers USA, having opened an office for the Beverly Hills-based commercial real estate company in San Francisco.
Weekly work schedule: 60 hours, six days per week.
On finally being able to afford a proper night about town: “I work hard, play hard. I probably go out two or three nights a week. I’m veering toward the hip scene nowadays because it’s a little more affordable. Back in the day, it was too tough to spend 10 bucks a drink including the cover at the door. These days, I like Slide on Saturday nights, the Redwood Room is fun, and 330Ritch, where the crowd is iffy but it is close by and I don’t have to take the cab. Last [Monday] I had a beer with Sean Penn at the Matrix. Not like I planned it, I was just lucky to run into him.”
Residence: Two-bedroom apartment in Mountain View. “To buy the place would require around a $4,000 per month mortgage. To rent, it’s $1,900, so it’s smarter to invest the $2,100 difference. I obtain a much better return.”
The golden brick road: He spent 100 hours a week alone in a room creating an easy-to-use Web site that could manage personal finances. The venture capitalists liked the idea enough to pump $17 million into Mint.com, his 2-year-old company.
Weekly work schedule: 65 hours per week.
On his reaction to that first big paycheck, and his “extravagant” spending: “[My reaction was] sweet, I can start investing! I’m not sure that I’ve made [a big purchase] yet. I bought some art for about $500. No massive stereo system, HDTV or gaming systems for me. I’mnot really into spending money — shopping and consuming don’t do much for me. I’d rather use my money to travel, be with people I love or just invest for the future (family, home, maybe even pilot’s lessons). I think I still do pretty much the same things, eat the same food, have fun in the same ways. I worry less about money, I suppose. I buy dinner more often for friends and family when out in a group. That’s about it.”
Residence: Three-bedroom house in Noe Valley. “I rent everything in my life — the house and the car.”
The golden brick road: Inkinen’s first venture, Matchem, a wireless software provider, was successfully launched and sold for an undisclosed amount of money. He is now onto his second venture, Trulia, a SoMa-based online real estate information service that has raised nearly $33 million from investors.
Weekly work schedule: 65 hours, always on call.
On his typical work day: “I usually wake up at 5 in the morning and look over e-mail until around 6 a.m. I then work out — training [to compete in marathons and triathlons] anywhere between nine and 15 hours per week — and get to my office by 9 a.m. I leave the office at around 7 p.m. and then [return home] to read e-mail until about 9 p.m. I then continue working from 9p.m. until 1 a.m. … I know, I don’t sleep enough. As for meals, I can eat oatmeal six times a day.”
The golden brick road: The nationally recognized urologist, one of a few American experts in robotic surgery, was recently recruited to the Bay Area to train local doctors on a new technology meant to make surgeries safer and less debilitating.
Weekly work schedule: 50 hours, five days, not including weeks when he is on call.
On whether his demanding job has kept him single: “Not at all. Out here, I love my job. But I can make the free time. I’m busy out of choice, because right now, I have nothing better to do. I’ve only been here 10 months, and between remodeling my house, moving, establishing a new practice and trying to learn the area, it’s been so busy. But if I had someone to spend time with, I would easily be able to balance that. Coming [to the Bay Area] was a lifestyle choice, to take back control of my life.”
Residence: Two-bedroom SoMa apartment. “It has a great view of the Bay and is near where I work.”
The golden brick road: He is co-founder and CEO of Videoegg.com, an online advertising network that has raised more than $27 million from investors in less than three years.
On staying close to home when he’s not traveling on business: “Just about everything I do is close to where I live. I mostly walk to work because I live two blocks away from the office. [For wine], I go to The District, because it’s nearby, very convenient. I shop at Safeway, which is just down the street. And I travel a lot … about 15 days of the month. I do drive an [Toyota] FJ [Cruiser] — I’m totally going to get crucified for that because it gets like 18 miles to the gallon — but I only drive it once a week. To get across town, I take cabs.”
Residence: Four-bedroom house in Palo Alto. “It has a nice backyard with a small pool, and great to have kids, friends over.”
The golden brick road: Dulski was a senior executive at Yahoo for nine years before co-founding Menlo Park-based Center’d Inc.
Weekly work schedule: 60 hours, five to six days.
On so-called extravagant purchases: “Other than being lucky enough to buy a nice house, I don’t make a lot of extravagant purchases. I don’t buy designer clothes or super-fancy sports cars. In fact, the shoes I get the most compliments on are the ones I buy at Target. I was a teacher out of college, so I think what I try to do is enjoy life and help make a difference for other people. I live my life by what I call the alarm-clock factor: I want to wake up in the morning knowing that I am having fun doing what I do.”
Residence: Two-bedroom apartment on 10th floor of North Beach complex. “A view of Alcatraz, the whole Bay and a back view of The City skyline at night.”
The golden brick road: Brezina was all set to travel the world when he got a call from a former roommate about starting a new tech company, Xobni. Just 26 months later, the San Francisco-based company has netted nearly $5 million from investors and is rumored to have just walked away from a more than $20 million Microsoft buyout.
Weekly work schedule: 60 to 70 hours, five to six days.
On valuing his time: “My co-founder taught me that my time is valuable. You should at least budget your time at $50 an hour. So if I can save an hour by having someone else do something for less than $50, I should probably do it. If it’s going to take me an hour to walk somewhere or I can take a taxi for $20, I should take a taxi. I get my laundry taken care of because I hate doing that. It’s one of those things that will suck up a whole Sunday.”