Philip LettsThen: CEO Beenz Now: founder of Blur Group Beenz, an online currency provider, was the dot-com precursor to Facebook Credits. Founded in 1998, the U.K.-based company positioned itself as the official currency of the web, letting consumers earn "beenz" through activities like visiting a Web site or online shopping. The e-currency could then be spent online through participating merchants. The company hired former software exec Philip Letts as CEO, and raised three rounds of funding from prominent investors like Oracle ( ORCL) founder Larry Ellison. It its most high-profile deal, beenz was integrated into MasterCard's ( MA) credit and debit cards, allowing users to spend the currency in offline stores. Letts helped Beenz expand rapidly, opening five offices in Europe, in addition to those in New York, Silicon Valley, Australia and Asia. He also grew the staff from 15 to 340 in less than two years. He left the company in mid-2000 to helm B2B marketing services company Tradaq.
After the dot-com bubble burst, Beenz folded and was sold to Carlton Marketing for an undisclosed sum. After Tradaq, Letts was CEO of mobile software company SurfKitchen, before going on to form his own creative services exchange, called Blur Group. Letts said his experience at Beenz and other ventures provided him with the tools to start his own company later in life, such as how to assemble a successful management team, design a business model and develop a marketing strategy. He also learned the importance of scaling a business properly, and has purposefully kept Blur Group lean. "If you over-engineer a business when it's too young, you kill it. If you under-engineer, you slow it down," he told TheStreet. "It's about getting the engineering and architecture of the business right at every stage."