Steve Kirsch’s first job was repairing pinball machines. “They always break,” says Kirsch, who at 15 was earning $30 an hour. “I had a contract with the local pinball place; I was much cheaper than the union mechanics.”
Today the 40-year-old entrepreneur of Sunnyvale, Ca., is chairman of Infoseek, one of the most widely used search engines on the Internet. It now has 160 employees and is visited by 1.5 million people a day.
“When I left MIT, I wanted to change the world,” says Kirsch, who earned a degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1980 and landed a job as a software engineer.
Having invented an optical mouse at MIT, he licensed the patent to a company which failed to market it, so frustrated he quit his job and with two friends began Mouse Systems, sinking in $40,000 of his own savings. “I figured if I failed I always could get another job.”
Four years later, he got an idea for desktop publishing software and left Mouse, founding Frame Technology, which later was acquired for $500 million. Then he began Infoseek. “Only mediocre people start companies. Really smart people know better,” he says. “It’s really hard. A new company is such a fragile thing. It takes a lot of hours and dedication to be a success.”
To succeed, he says: “You need to be passionate, believe in yourself, and persevere. When you run up against road blocks, you have to find solutions in spite of all the obstacles.”
His strength is dreaming up creative ideas, but the toughest part, no question, he says, has been developing people skills. “I came out of MIT with more technical skills than I ever would need in a lifetime, but my people skills weren’t improved. It was great people at work who helped me.”
Kirsch deeply values his work. “I could be doing anything right now, which is why I am doing this. I love it. Helping people find information to enrich their lives is motivating and very rewarding. I mean, I could be playing golf now.” He laughs. “But golf is too frustrating.”