The lanky British lad hasn't even finished high school, but already he has two successsful start-ups under his belt. The first, the football site Soccernet, is now part of Disney's online kingdom. His current project, the education site Schoolsnet, was valued at $60 million in a financing round last year. Who is this kid? A nerd? A spoiled brat? A calculating opportunist? And what can he possibly do for an encore?
Hadfield, a chatty and down-to-earth teen, knows he has enjoyed the serendipitous combination of an innate entrepreneurial streak, supportive parents and the blissful ignorance of youth. "What about thinking rationally through the chances of success?" he asks. "That didn't even occur to me." But it did occur to him at age 12 that the Internet was a wondrous thing. He discovered it at his friend Rupert's house and was so captivated that he stayed for three straight days. Only the promise of his own Net account lured him home.
Soccernet was born when an online chatmate in Australia asked if anyone knew the Arsenal score. Hadfield wrote back, "Yeah, 2-0." Turns out many fans abroad waited days to get football scores from the papers, so he started sending results by e-mail. Next came requests for attendance and match reports. Then, he says, "it was 200 people instead of 10, and it was like, 'Let's just put it on the Web.'"
Several kitchen-table brainstorming sessions later, Hadfield and his father Greg had a business plan. Soccernet, one of the first commercial football sites, attracted thousands of Net-savvy fans with its trove of data on English soccer, including match details and player bios. After Greg quit his job as chief reporter at the Sunday Express to work full-time on the site, father and son spent 14 hours a day together "the best thing about Soccernet," says Tom. The two found a buyer, Britain's Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), which let them retain creative control. But after World Cup '98, the pair agreed the work had become just that work.
It was time to go back to the kitchen table. Many pages of crumpled paper later, they had a new idea: education. Hadfield had spent 13 years in classrooms; his father had been an education correspondent and his mother was a teacher who had tried and failed to find information online.
At Schoolsnet, parents can access statistics on British schools, such as average test scores, while students can find anything from review notes on Ted Hughes' poetry to results of school rugby matches. And teachers can vent; one message board is titled, "Let's be honest kids are awful!"
New Media Age, a British trade magazine, named Schoolsnet its 2000 Start-up of the Year, and funding has been problem-free, even in the dismal dotcom climate. So what's Hadfield doing with his off-line wealth? His answer: there's not much of it. DMGT paid only something in the "mid-six figures" for Soccernet. (In 1999, Disney paid $25 million for 60% of the site and bought the rest a year later for an undisclosed sum.) While Hadfield's Soccernet stake was valued at about $11 million in a financing round last April, that's just paper wealth. "I don't drive a flash car or live in a flash house," he says. "Money's a side issue."
A typical answer from Hadfield, a self-confessed business geek who claims to care more about entrepreneurial process than profits. Nor is he a techie, despite his new media credentials: "The computer and the Internet are just tools that allowed me to take part in a world I wanted to be in." They were also his ticket to the 2001 World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was named a Global Leader for Tomorrow. Meeting people like billionaire George Soros and microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus "was inspirational," he says. "I was hanging on every word."
Perhaps his biggest challenge has been to maintain a semblance of teenage normalcy. It's not easy to do a cnn interview live from Davos one week and be back in class studying for the upcoming A-level exams the next. It helps that Hadfield commutes to Schoolsnet's London headquarters only once or twice a week; the firm's tech operations, which he oversees, are based in his hometown of Brighton. He also guards his off hours fiercely, saving time to watch England soccer games with friends and to go nightclub hopping, "especially if I have to be in class at eight the next morning."
While he's not certain about his future, Hadfield does plan to go to university. But first he wants to spend a year working abroad, perhaps on a computer literacy project in India or at the U.S.-based Internet authority icann. Oh, the options! Sometimes, Hadfield says, the choices give him "brain overload." If finding a new path is too much, there's always the old. At this rate, he could squeeze in a dozen more start-ups before he hits retirement age, say 45.