7 Instant Millionaires Of The Startup Gold Rush

Artist David ChoeMany, many people are about to get very, very rich later this month, when Facebook finally goes public. The IPO will create 1000 new millionaires, and make one graffiti artist, who presciently took shares instead of cash payment for his work at Facebook's Palo Alto's offices, as wealthy as Mitt Romney. It's a sign of our unusual times, where a great idea, a laptop, and a case of Mountain Dew can turn into millions of dollars in a couple years or less.

Many Americans now make up this new class of instant millionaires, who raced into the modern-day gold rush with pans ready and waving. Most built up companies from their homes with some scratched-together savings, and then sold them soon after for mind-bending amounts. Here are seven of the country's most dazzling instant millionaires:

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7 Instant Millionaires Of The Startup Gold Rush

When 15-year-old Catherine and 16-year-old David Cook started a new school in suburban New Jersey, they found it hard to make new friends. So over spring break in 2005, they founded MyYearBook.com, a social network for teenagers, enlisting the help of their big brother, Geoff, who had already founded a couple of startups from his dorm room.

Six years later, the three of them sold the site to Quepasa Corp. for $100 million. Just a couple of months out of college, Catherine could now buy herself a graduation gift of a couple dozen space flights, or the siblings could pool together their funds and buy Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" as office decoration.

"This whole experience has been a dream, but I don't see myself as a millionaire," Catherine told ABC News after the acquisition. "I'm still an ordinary girl."

Dag Kittlaus labored for four years at his startup, struggling to pay the bills, and straining his marriage. Then in 2010, he got a call from Steve Jobs. He'd heard about Kitllaus' product, "the first true automated Virtual Personal Assistant for mobile devices," and although Jobs wasn't so taken by the name -- Siri -- he wanted to buy it.

Kittlaus sold him Siri for $200 million, pocketing most of the money himself. The 43-year-old Norwegian moved to Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, but quit 18 months later, and bought a villa in a Chicago suburb, reported the business website, E24. He now sits on the board of a nonprofit that gives homework help to underprivileged children, and is working on a novel, a techno-drama set in the future.

PHOTO: YouTube.com

In 2004, Kevin Systrom was a sophomore at Stanford, and working on a photo-sharing app in his free time. Mark Zuckerberg noticed and offered Systrom a job. The 20-year-old said no thanks.

Eight years later, Zuckerberg called again, and offered Systrom a check with nine zeros. He wanted to make Systrom's misty-filtered photo-sharing startup, Instagram, the crown jewel of his Facebook empire. Systrom said OK.

Systrom reportedly owns 40 percent of the company, which means $400 million just landed in his bank account. His 25-year-old co-founder, Mike Krieger, allegedly received the more modest sum of $100 million. Naturally, they immediately went to Las Vegas and partied.

PHOTO: LeWeb11, Flickr.com

Dan Porter founded the social gaming company OMGPOP in 2006. They got a bunch of funding, and developed 20 games. But none of them hit it big, and the investors were getting nervous. After all, the social gaming site Zynga, which was founded a year after OMGPOP, was churning out hit after hit. So in the desperate days of early 2012, Porter laid off several employees.

Then the company launched Draw Something, a Pictionary-like game for smartphones. Five weeks later, it had been downloaded 20 million times. One week after that, Zynga snatched up its older brother for a cool $210 million.

Hours before signing the deal, Porter made sure to rehire those laid-off workers, so that they could cash out too. "Porter didn't have to do it," a source told Business Insider. "It was just the mensch thing to do."

PHOTO: TCDisrupt, Flickr.com

A lot of 20-somethings struggle with managing money. And 25-year-old Aaron Patzer was frustrated that there was no good online service to help him out. So he decided to make it himself. He saved up $50,000, which wasn't enough to hire an experienced engineer. So instead, he brought on Matthew Snider, a guy he'd met hiking.

Three years and 1.7 million users later, Patzer sold Mint.com to Intuit for $170 million, and the young man who wanted a better way to manage his personal finances would never have to worry about his personal finances again.

"I've relaxed by budget on travel and hotels just so I can do a little more exotic travel," he told The New York Times about his sudden windfall. "I relaxed my grocery budget so I can shop at Whole Foods instead of Safeway."

PHOTO: KK+, Flickr.com

In 2001, Stewart Butterfield asked Caterina Fake to start a company with him. And then he proposed. Fresh from their honeymoon in 2002, they started making a whimsical multi-player game for grown-ups. But soon they were running out of money, and at one point were "trying to figure out what furniture we should sell to make payroll," Fake told Inc.

So they decided to change it into a social photo-sharing site instead. It was a major risk, and they couldn't afford to make a mistake. In 2004, they launched Flickr. And in 2005, they sold it to Yahoo! for a reported $35 million.

The couple realized that they shouldn't have sold when they did. Flickr eventually became one of the most popular sites on the internet. But they explained to Inc. that an early investor consoled them: "You can always do it again. And the amount of money that you'll make on this will change your life in a way that you'll be able to be entrepreneurs the rest of your lives."

Since then, Fake and Butterfield have divorced, but it hasn't dented Fake's creative drive. She helped found Hunch, which crowd-sources decision-making, and sold it to eBay for a reported $80 million, and has rallied up $2 million for her new startup, Pinwheel, which lets you find and leave notes around the world.

PHOTO: Richard Morgenstein

Richard Jones was a college kid in the U.K. when he started Audioscrobbler as a computer science project. The tool monitored what you were listening to, and recommended new music, based on the favorite bands of other users who shared your musical taste.

"What I have achieved so far is just the tip of the iceberg," he told the BBC in a 2003 article about his impressive 3,000 users.

Later that year, Jones got in touch with a group of German and Austrian guys who were doing a similar thing, and their startup, Last.fm, acquired his company for a 15 percent stake. Fast forward four years, and "the world's largest online music catalogue, powered by your scrobbles" boasted 15 million users, and CBS bought up the pie for $280 million. Turns out, Jones' school science project was an iceberg worth $38 million.

PHOTO: YouTube.com


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