• ONE AFTER ANOTHER, THE INstant millionaires and even billionaires have been appearing, brought forth by the stock market's magic. Last Aug. 9, Netscape, a Mountain View, California, software company, sold stock to the public for the first time. By the end of the day, the shares owned by chairman James Clark were worth $566 million. Netscape's technical whiz, Marc Andreessen, who is 24 years old, was suddenly worth $58 million. In November the net worth of Pixar chairman Steve Jobs increased more than $1.1 billion in a single day when the company, responsible for the computer-animated hit movie Toy Story, sold new stock on the open market. Dozens of other entrepreneurs have had similar experiences during the past year. Getting rich quick is one thing; these are cases of getting incredibly rich immediately.

    The wealth comes from initial public offerings of stock, or IPOs, which are experiencing an unprecedented boom in the great bull market of the past two years. As the stock market has smashed records, more and more private firms, particularly technology companies, have decided to raise cash by selling equities to the public. More capital was raised in IPOs by emerging high-tech firms in 1995--$8.4 billion--than in any other year in U.S. history. And when an IPO is successful, the people who already hold shares in the company make out well. Sometimes very well. Sometimes unbelievably well.

    Clark, for example, owns 32% of Netscape. Before the company went public, it was almost impossible to place a value on that stake. Now that Netscape stock is traded, it is easy to figure out: he has almost 20 million shares, and last week they were selling for $65.50. That makes Clark's stock worth more than $1 billion. On the day before the IPO, he simply owned a large piece of a company that had never shown a profit.

    "I don't think there was ever a period when wealth was created so instantly through the market as it is today," says Alan Brinkley, professor of history at Columbia University. "Certainly there were many people who rose from modest wealth to vast riches over a lifetime at the turn of the century--specifically, those in railroads, steel, oil and the big, rapidly growing industries of the time. But it was nothing like the people today who are worth a few hundred thousand dollars one day and take their companies public the next and become billionaires."

    In the past, the sudden creation of large fortunes was accompanied by great resentment on the part of the public, and great ostentation on the part of the new rich, which only made matters worse. Just think of the Gilded Age, or the 1920s, or--horrors!--the 1980s. This time things are different. When they work right, IPOs reward the people capitalism is supposed to reward--dynamic entrepreneurs, not rapacious monopolists or financial card-sharks. Among high-tech firms, the beneficiaries usually include employees far down in the hierarchy, who were granted stock options, often because the companies couldn't afford high salaries or generous benefits. Certainly, venture capitalists and investment bankers make money from IPOs, and they can be used to palm off lousy securities to the public. But at their best, IPOs are a Frank Capra movie, not Wall Street.

    IT IS IN THEIR STYLE THAT TODAY'S millionaires differ most strikingly from the new rich of the past. Rather than build huge houses of questionable taste in Newport or Palm Beach or Aspen, the brand-new millionaires may live in two-bedroom apartments and wear T shirts and jeans. Rather than jet to Tahoe for the weekend in their Gulfstream, they are liable to be with the kids at the neighborhood soccer league. Running-shoe chic is often a pose in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, but this modesty appears genuine. Today's newly superrich are models of free enterprise, except for one thing: they don't seem all that interested in money.

    Marc Andreessen greets a visitor at his office in Mountain View, California, by saying, "Got my Armani suit on today." He's actually wearing a sport shirt, jeans and clunky boots. When he's off duty, he may lose the boots. Andreessen is 6-ft. 4-in. tall and has a baby face and lopsided smile. Talking about the day he made his first $50 million, he says, "I was at home in bed. I had been up until, like, 3 in the morning, working, so I woke up at 11, logged in from home, looked at Quote.Com. My eyes went..." He makes a face of astonishment. The stock was expected to sell at $28; instead it opened at $71 (it has since had a 2-for-1 split). "Then," he says, "I went back to sleep."

    Andreessen grew up in Wisconsin, where his father is a retired salesman and his mother works for Lands' End. While an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he helped develop a program called Mosaic that makes it easier to navigate around the Internet. Paid $6.85 an hour, he was actually supposed to be writing software for three-dimensional scientific visualization. The university was enthusiastic about Mosaic, however. It gave the program away, earning the team that wrote it the undying devotion of the Internet underground. Jim Clark, who had founded Silicon Graphics, a computer firm known for its workstations, sent Andreessen an E-mail message in early 1994 suggesting that they talk. Using Clark's capital, they founded Netscape, with the idea of becoming a kind of Microsoft of the Internet. Their breakthrough product has been the Internet browser called Navigator.

    Like other IPO millionaires, Andreessen is careful to point out how difficult it would be for him to sell his stock. "You can't just sum up the total value of the stock and say that that's actually what somebody has in his pocket," he says. "There are a lot of both legal and practical restrictions on what actually happens to the money." Under the provisions of most IPOs, officers and executives who have stock or stock options cannot begin selling shares for several months. In addition, the sec places strict limits on the number of shares that officers and key executives can sell each quarter. Finally, insiders are inhibited from selling their stock because other investors might take it as a bad sign and start selling too. "It's all still funny money," Andreessen says. Asked if he feels rich, he fidgets. "Not really," he says. "When I want to go out to dinner, I go out to dinner, but other than that..."

    Until this month Andreessen lived in a rented two-bedroom house in Palo Alto with his girlfriend Elizabeth Horn, who sells commercial real estate. He gets to the office around 10 a.m. and rushes home at 5 p.m. to walk their bulldog. Until about 3 each morning, Andreessen answers E-mail, reviews the status of products and, as corporate vice president of technology, helps plan Netscape's next moves (he doesn't write code anymore). "Marc hasn't changed," says Horn. "He still buys 20 or more CDs of classical music at a time when we go to Tower Records. We live in a modest house with books and records and computers and bulldog toys, not art and sculpture and glittery things." Andreessen and Horn have just moved to another rented house, this one with three bedrooms. "I have a girlfriend," he says. "That's one of the reasons we're getting the house. And we have a dog. That's another reason."

    Fifteen years ago, Steve Jobs knew how Marc Andreessen feels today. Apple Computer, which he founded with Steve Wozniak, went public in 1980 when Jobs was 25. But in 1985 he was pushed out of the company (today he doesn't even use Apple products, although a broken Macintosh he calls a "sculpture" sits in a closet), and his fortunes seemed to dim. Later that year, he started NeXT, but its computers never caught on the way the Macs did.

    ALL OF A SUDDEN, JOBS IS BACK on top. In 1986 he paid filmmaker George Lucas a reported $10 million for a small firm specializing in computer animation. Over the next six years Jobs poured another $40 million of his own money into the company, now called Pixar, as it set out to make the first-ever computer-animated feature film. The result was Toy Story, which since its release in November has grossed more than $177 million at the box office. The Pixar IPO, timed to take place just after Toy Story opened, was a huge hit too. The share price more than doubled in the first hour of trading, and Jobs, who owns 80% of the company, was a billion dollars richer. Since then, the price has dropped so that Jobs' holdings are worth a mere $728 million.

    Sitting in NeXT's offices in Redwood City, California, Jobs is slightly more subdued than the hyperenergetic--and, some would say, megalomaniacal--pitchman of old. "You have to work differently once you have a family," he says. (He lives with his wife and three children in a large house in Palo Alto.) "When I was in my 20s, I literally would work 18-hour days, seven days a week. You do that with a family, and you won't have a family for very long."

    Jobs makes the point that Pixar, like other IPO overnight successes, was really anything but an overnight success. "The things that I've done in my life have required a lot of years of work before they took off," he says. He and Wozniak started work on Apple in 1975. "So it was really six years of work before we went public. And Pixar has been 10 years."

    Jobs insists that he isn't in it for the money. "The thing that drives me and my colleagues at both Apple and Pixar," he says, "is that you see something very compelling to you, and you don't quite know how to get it, but you know, sometimes intuitively, it's within your grasp. And it's worth putting in years of your life to make it come into existence."

    When Jobs' remarks are repeated to Jeff Braun, he says, "That's what it's about! It's a vision." Braun is the co-founder of Maxis, which makes computer-simulation games. The company went public last May, and now Braun's stake is valued at about $79 million. To commemorate deals, investment banks make Lucite cubes containing miniature versions of the "tombstone" ads that run in newspapers announcing an offering. Braun holds up his memento of the Maxis IPO and says, "I'm proud of this. This represents the maturing of the company. It says you're an adult now. You can go out in the real world."

    In his youth, Braun, 40, didn't seem headed for the real world. A native of Los Angeles, he spent eight years going to various colleges--Claremont Colleges in Pomona, Lake Tahoe Community College, Sacramento State--without ever receiving a degree. Eventually, he dropped out to earn $15 to $20 an hour working for a video-game distributor. "I got a lot of experience playing the early arcade games," he says with a grin, "'testing,' as we used to say, to make sure the machines worked properly--for hours on end."

    In 1987 he met Will Wright, who showed Braun a game called Metropolis that he had been working on. "I went ballistic," Braun says. "I knew immediately." Wright told him that everyone had turned the game down, but Braun asked him if he wanted to form a company based on the product. For the next two years, Braun and Wright worked out of Braun's apartment. "The programmers were in the living room, and the kitchen was the mail room," Braun says. "One of the bedrooms was an administrative office, and the other bedroom was mine, and it had a sign that said keep out. We had about six people."

    The game, renamed SimCity, was an instant success. Players create their own city and make decisions about managing the environment, taxes, police protection and so on. Raising taxes too high? The residents might start moving to neighboring towns. Worse still, they might vote the mayor (you) out of office. Maxis makes other games along the same lines. It now employs nearly 200 people and has revenues of $55 million.

    AS FOR HIS NEWFOUND WEALTH, Braun sounds like Andreessen. "What you're seeing is a lot of zeroes in your net worth, but not a lot of zeroes in your bank account. It's not real! I can't go to a 7-Eleven and buy a Coke with that money." He too has modest tastes. "I'm not into boats. I'm not into planes. I'm not into clothes. So it's really hard for me!" he says, laughing. "So what's available? I got myself a nicer home, and that's about it. And I went out and bought my parents a house too. I felt like one of those sports guys, you know"--he puts on a dumb-jock accent--"'Duh, I bought a house for my parents...'"

    Braun insists that it's not the money that keeps him doing what he is doing. "I can retire, Jim Clark can retire, Steve Jobs can retire," he says. "We don't have to go to work if we don't love it. But we love it! We're not saying, 'Oh, my God, if I work another year, I can make another $10 million' or something. That's not the motivation."

    It's not the motivation for Bill Schrader either. He's another brand-new IPO multimillionaire--his company, PSINet, went public last May. It claims to operate the largest service devoted to providing Internet access to businesses and individuals. Schrader's life has remained the same--he still works seven days a week, still drinks 20 Diet Cokes a day, still unwinds by throwing a softball around with a colleague, talking about business. He and his wife, he says, "go out to dinner a bit more."

    Schrader graduated from Cornell in 1974 and eventually helped run the university's supercomputer center. "I'm not a scientist," he says. "I'm a generalist and a manager of complex scientific organisms that many people don't understand. I'm never responsible for the science, because I don't know enough. I'm not a computer geek; I'm a manager and a business person." The job at Cornell led him to explore links with other computers and, eventually, the Internet. In 1990 he formed his own company, which later became PSINet.

    "At one point, I thought we were going to go bust because we couldn't make payroll," says Dan Cunningham, the chief financial officer. "Bill kept the company running on his credit cards--Visa and MasterCard, not American Express, because that is a card that you have to pay the bill on every month." In the middle of a rise in the silver market in 1989, Schrader's mother raised several thousand dollars by selling the silver coins she had collected, and invested the proceeds in PSINet. The following day the silver market dropped sharply.

    Marc Andreessen might be surprised to hear it, but Doug Colbeth thinks the people over at Netscape are "very much Hollywood personalities." Colbeth is the president and ceo of Spyglass Inc., which directly competes with Netscape. Spyglass is not based in lush, sun-tinged California, but rather in Naperville, Illinois. Last June, when the company went public, management celebrated by taking the 54 employees to a minor-league baseball game (tickets: $2 apiece). "We're blue-collar high tech," Colbeth says.

    Spyglass and Netscape are cousins. The Illinois company controls the original patents for Mosaic, the Internet browser program that Andreessen helped write. Mosaic was licensed to Spyglass by the University of Illinois in 1994. Before that, the company was struggling as it tried to develop three-dimensional visualization software for scientists (the same kind of work that Andreessen was supposed to be doing as he wrote Mosaic). Government grants dried up, and so did Spyglass's business. Colbeth and his wife Margey went through $100,000 in savings to keep the company going. "There's a lot of bad memories I'm suppressing," he says. "A lot of nights waking up in a cold sweat wondering was I trading off too much of the family's stability--and their financial future. There were no college funds for the kids. My wife and I would have these discussions. She was very nervous. Extremely nervous. So she called me crazy more than once."

    Colbeth's shares are worth $22 million. He says he still goes about his life the same way. He brings a lunch box to work, takes his turn making coffee, sits with his employees in the lunchroom. Yes, he has paid off some debts and put aside some money for his children's education, but his only real indulgence has been to buy a $3,000 surround-sound system for watching movies at home. He has watched Top Gun 12 times.

    Conservatives and liberals all seem to regard the high-tech entrepreneur as the ideal economic agent. They do so with good reason, for if capitalism is "creative destruction," in Joseph Schumpeter's famous phrase, then people like Marc Andreessen, Steve Jobs, Jeff Braun, Bill Schrader and Doug Colbeth are responsible for the creating part. But is there much that conservative or liberal policies can really do to nurture such enterprise? Would Marc Andreessen work harder under a flat tax? The creating part of capitalism is the part that economic laws do not explain. Like a code writer and his code, inspiration and dedication stand outside the system to which they are so crucial.