It's the dream of every entrepreneur: start a company, make it successful, take it public and become ultra-rich. In technology in particular, it seemed like 2011 was the year of the start-up. Venture capitalists poured $21.24 billion into 2,725 tech start-ups compared to $17.67 billion in the same period of 2010.
Not everyone can join a company founded by Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, however, so how can you tell which start-ups may be the best places to work? One way is to consider the technology, the executives involved or the source of the new firm's capital.
To help you choose, we've created a dossier of five start-ups with the most interesting technology, the most pedigreed executives or the most prestigious investors.
Watch FINS Editor Janet Guyon discuss five hot (and hiring) start-ups on WSJ.com's Digits.
Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
Technology: Square makes a portable credit card reader that plugs in to the iPhone. It enables anyone, anywhere to accept credit card payments.
Executives: Chief Executive Jack Dorsey helped found Twitter, where he is currently chairman. Dorsey has been compared to Steve Jobs, and is known for his crazy work ethic. Square's chief operating officer, Keith Rabois, was an early executive at LinkedIn and PayPal. He's a prominent angel investor and knows practically everyone in Silicon Valley -- which will help you along the way.
Investors: The company has raised $168 million according to CrunchBase and its long list of investors is a who's who of the tech world. Google's Marissa Mayer, Foursquare's Dennis Crowley, Ron Conway and Shawn Fanning helped fund Square's first big round of financing back in 2009. More recently Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Visa, and Richard Branson have put money into the company.
What: Ooyala Inc.
Headquarters: Mountain View, Calif.
Technology: Ooyala makes a Web video platform that enables customers to like ESPN to analyze user behavior in real time and alter their monetization efforts accordingly.
Executives: The company is led by Chief Executive Jay Fulcher, a veteran technology executive whose past two companies -- Agile Software and PeopleSoft -- were both acquired by Oracle. The company's co-founders, Sean Knapp and Bismarck Lepe, are former Google employees who play key executive roles at the company. They like to give engineers ownership over their products and are hiring about 65 through 2012.
Investors: The company raised its seed round from legendary venture capitalist and early Google investor Ron Conway in 2007. Since then they've raised a total of $44 million, much it from Sierra Ventures.
What: Evolv on Demand
Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
Technology: Evolv makes a software platform that helps companies in high-turnover industries like call centers make data-driven hiring decisions. The company uses advanced algorithms developed by statisticians and psychometricians to determine whether an applicant is likely to quit soon after starting a job or stick with it.
Executives: The company's co-founder and Chief Executive, Max Simkoff, is a former payment technology executive and private equity fund founder. The company's chief marketing officer, Dan Enthoven, is the former vice president of product marketing and alliances at Monster.com. Google's senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, sits on the company's board of directors, the only such board position he holds.
Investors: Evolv has raised $27.5 million in venture financing from GGV Capital, which has also invested in Square, as well as Khosla Ventures, which is headed by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, a well-connected VC.
What: Simple (formerly BankSimple).
Where: Portland, Ore.
Technology: Simple makes a personal banking platform that aims to cut out the clunky user interfaces of traditional online banking services. The company itself isn't a bank -- it puts your money into an FDIC-insured bank's coffers -- but it does everything else for you. Saving, spending, and bill payments are all handled through the company's platform.
Executives: Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Alex Payne was one of Twitter's earliest employees and helped develop Twitter's API, or developer platform. The company is planning to hire 40 people through 2012.
Investors: The company has raised $13.1 million from First Round Capital, whose portfolio includes Turntable FM and UberMedia, as well as IA Ventures and Shasta Ventures.
Headquarters: New York, N.Y.
Technology: LiveIntent helps marketers personalize their email advertisements based on the recipient's location, device and the time of day they are opening it. For instance, a restaurant coupon will read as being 40% off lunch if it's opened in the morning, and 40% off dinner if opened in the afternoon. The company's technology is used in email newsletters by publishers like MSNBC and the Daily Beast.
Executives: Chief Executive Officer and founder Matt Keiser is a veteran advertising technology executive who previously worked at Datran Media and Traffix Inc. The company currently has about 23 employees and plans to hire 20 more over the next year.
Investors: The company has raised $12.6 million from investors including Shasta Ventures (also an investor in Simple) and First Round Capital.
Write to Joseph Walker at Joseph.Walker@dowjones.com