1981: Inventor of the Hayes Smartmodem
Now: Advisor to startups
In the BB era (before broadband), if you wanted to connect to the Net, you used a Hayes modem or something just like it. The Hayes Smartmodem transformed the PC from a computing machine into a communications device, helping to create a multibillion dollar industry for Internet access. (It's also number 7 on PC World's .)
But like a lot of PC pioneers, Dennis Hayes caught more than his share of arrows. Competition from cheap modem clones ultimately doomed his firm, Hayes Microcomputer Products, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1994 and closed its doors for good in 1998. Hayes followed up by opening a popular nightclub in Atlanta called the Whiskey Rock Saloon. It burned down a year later. Along the way, Hayes developed macular degeneration and became legally blind.
Hayes became an advocate for Internet accessibility for the disabled. He helped create and still chairs the US Internet Industry Association (USIIA), which lobbies Congress on high-tech legislation. His most recent victory: an extension of the moratorium on Internet taxes. Now based in New York, Hayes advises high-tech startups and is launching an investment management firm.
The biggest difference from the old days, he says, is that his life now is much less predictable. "When I owned Hayes I knew where I would be working and what I would be working on," he says. "Now I never know when the phone will ring and I will be working on something totally different. I've come to appreciate how my actor and musician friends feel when they are looking for the next gig."Socks' Master
1999: CEO of Pets.com
Now: Strategic consultant
From flying toasters to sock puppets, Julie Wainwright has touched her share of high-tech history. The itinerant chief executive has run some of the seminal startups in technology, starting with Berkeley Systems, which morphed from a maker of wacky screen savers to the force behind popular games like "You Don't Know Jack." From there Wainwright moved to Reel.com, the movie database that morphed into a brick-and-mortar video rental operation before being purchased in 1998 by Hollywood Entertainment for $100 million.
But Wainwright is probably best known for her role at Pets.com, the last big IPO to launch before the dot-bomb implosion (and number 7 on our list of ). Wainwright signed on in March 1999. By November 2000, Pets.com had morphed into...well, nothing. The shuttered site ultimately sold its URL to rival Petsmart.com in June 2001.
"I am probably best known as the CEO of Pets.com, the leading pet supply company with its famous sock puppet," she writes in her profile on networking site LinkedIn. "That was the ride of a life time. The Internet bubble burst and I was in position of either running the company to bankruptcy or shutting it down to return money to shareholders. I chose the latter. [It was a] tough decision made with the support of world-class team and board."
Since the Pets.com debacle, Wainwright has filled the top job at an Internet consulting agency, venture capital firm, and photo editing software maker. Now Wainwright is seeking her next big high-tech adventure--preferably one that doesn't involve sock puppets.
2003: The future of consumer robotics
Now: Teacher's helper