Eric Engstrom developed a taste for creating new worlds at Microsoft, but after eight years, he felt the need to venture beyond the giant's bounds.
One of the original developers of the DirectX technology used for most Windows games and multimedia applications, Engstrom went on to play a prominent role in the Justice Department's antitrust trial against the company, testifying that Microsoft hadn't tried to cut a secret deal with Apple Computer to split up the multimedia business.
Determined to leave his mark, he departed Microsoft in late 1999 as general manager of MSN's dial-up Net business and embarked on an entrepreneurial frenzy. He started three companies almost immediately--and almost as immediately got overwhelmed.
"That was an act of huge hubris," Engstrom, 36, said in an interview. "I learn frequently that I have to be more humble."
But his desire to "change the way people think" endured. He quickly left his first company, a start-up creating XML-based e-mail infrastructure, after realizing it wasn't terribly exciting. His second venture was more ambitious.
On the surface the venture appears to be a pedestrian software outsourcing operation based in India. But Engstrom and partners are using it to create a semi-utopian live-work community modeled on Western living standards.
Today, most of Engstrom's time is spent with another company, Gitwit (short for "Get With It"), which is trying to change the way cell phones are made and distributed. The company creates a soft "skin" loaded with software that can snap on and off a phone to give it new features such as games or chat programs.
As for the future, Engstrom won't rule out anything--even returning to Microsoft.
"It was time for me to leave," he said, "but that doesn't mean I wouldn't go back."