When Matt Coffin entered an Irvine conference room filled with executives and investment bankers interested in buying his Santa Monica-based Internet company, the significance of the moment hit him all at once.

Coffin was about to begin the process of selling LowerMyBills.com Inc., and he suddenly realized all the sleepless nights and missed weekends the proverbial blood, sweat and tears were culminating in this one meeting.

"I felt like all the air in the room had been sucked out of it," he recalled. "I couldn't get out of my chair to give the presentation. I just kind of sat there, with my hands shaking. I told them 'You'll have to excuse me, I'm kind of nervous.'"

After a few minutes, Coffin pushed through the meeting. The transaction was finalized earlier this month when London-based GUS Plc's financial services unit Experian made a $380 million deal for the company, which provides comparison interest rate information.

Among the richest and most successful businesspeople in Los Angeles, that moment probably has a familiar ring. Everyone has turning points in life marriage, a job offer, a big business transaction. But for a select few, those turning points can become financial and professional watersheds.

"There is always a moment in time, and a moment in every person's career, when the tide reverses," said James Hunt, managing partner at Bison Capital Management LLC. Hunt's own moment came when he went to work for Eli Broad.

The Business Journal asked several local businesspeople to describe that turning point. Some recalled the first big job that led to opening doors down the line, while others spoke almost wistfully about their first investment property.

In most cases, big money followed not quite on the magnitude of this year's 50 richest Angelenos, where the floor is $621 million, but major wealth by just about any other measure. And yet, for people like Coffin, who started his company from scratch in 1999, it's not all dollars and cents.

The weekend after Experian's purchase became final, he took his wife to Beverly Hills for some celebratory shopping in the boutiques along Rodeo Drive and department stores on Wilshire Boulevard. "We came home empty-handed," Coffin said. "We just couldn't find anything we really needed."

'The chance'
Mark Nathanson, a cable industry pioneer, said the turning point in his career wasn't one of the many cable deals that turned him into a multimillionaire.


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