From the January 1999 issue of Startups

Here's the story of three guys with a dream job. It all started when Alan Manuel, 30, John Rigos, 31, and Thomas Ryan, 29, met at business school (in France, no less). For an entrepreneurship class project, the friends crafted a custom-CD business. The final grade's a mystery, but in the January following their 1996 graduation, the partners launched CDuctive, a New York City "music company of the future." Last year, they launched the CDuctive Web site (www.cductive.com)--introducing quality music to the masses.

"Say you hear some funky music, but have no idea what it is. You'd come to our site, listen to samplers in different genres and realize you like acid jazz but never knew," says Rigos. After taking the tunes for a spin, customers can customize their own CDs--right down to the cover art.

Exercising your taste is what it's all about. "Right now, most people buy what the major music labels are promoting, because [big labels] have the most money and basically determine what people are going to listen to," explains Rigos. "Here, the listener has the choice." The site's initial focus was dance/electronica, but since former record-label manager Jordan Trachtenberg, 30, was hired to create an indie-rock section, CDuctive's selection has broadened.

Site traffic and sales are soaring, too, by some 40 percent per month. And despite working 12- to 16-hour days, life's still fun for the partners: DJs often spin in-house at night, and music blares all day. "It's just kind of a scene," says Rigos.

And by the way, we didn't mention any titles because the partners don't use them. Why? Rigos puts it simply: "Egos."

Quick-Change Artists

Caroline Zarlengo Sposto and James Sposto are a pair that self-proclaimed multimedia maven Andy Warhol would've loved. "[We're] interested in everything and read about everything, [which] makes us more receptive," says James, 33.

Their receptiveness and ability to adapt to the changing world around them is what's made the couple's 3-year-old Sposto Productions, a creative services firm specializing in interactive multimedia and Web site development, flourish. And their sense of humor doesn't hurt: On their Web site (www.sposto.com), the description of an impressive project for NASA's Education & Work Force Development resource site is followed by the very Sposto-esque comment, "At least we can say we've participated in a NASA launch."

The Spostos weren't born techies. Quite the contrary: Before moving to Memphis from Los Angeles in 1993, James focused on film production, while Caroline pursued acting, wrote magazine and newspaper articles, and taught English. But back then their life goals, along with raising daughter Gina, now 5, and expecting daughter Glennis, now 4, just didn't meld with the L.A. lifestyle. "L.A. isn't necessarily a meritocracy. Memphis is," says James. "If you come to Memphis, you can rise to your level of ability."

Memphis has since treated the duo very well: 1998 saw gross sales of $150,000--about six times their first-year sales. Sure, the three years prior to their 1996 start-up were spent working for others (Caroline, 36, even has "karaoke hostess" on her resume), but their combined efforts finally led the Spostos to self-financed self-employment. Today, their Memphis home, located in a historic district, houses both a family and a business.

Their Web site design business is going so strong they plan to open a branch in Los Angeles this month and return "home." How do they make it all work, you might ask? With "relative ease," says Caroline.

Agrees James: "We want the same things--a good home life, a successful business and the ability to enjoy life."