From the February 1999 issue of Startups

Matthew Labul finds the chocolate-covered prunes of Poland delicious. But when he and his brother Eric launched The International Junk Food of the Month Club in 1996, they didn't put prunes on the lineup due to their use-as-needed stigma in America. Who knew snacks were worth such scrutiny?

The brothers Labul knew. Snacks, after all, are their calling. Consider the origins of their New York City company, World Candy Store: While in the Navy, Eric, 33, sampled junk food around the globe. Back home in New York, Matthew, 32, worked as an advertising copywriter (and still does). Sense the winning combination?

To find worthy snacks, the brothers scouted grocery stores in local ethnic neighborhoods. "We'd bring [our findings] home and have a massive taste test and a gallon of water," says Matthew. The criteria: must not taste like an American snack; must have sealed packaging; must not be so foreign-tasting Americans won't like it.

Their efforts--perhaps fueled by snack-induced hyperactivity?--paid off. Advertising in high-end magazines such as Bon Appetit and The New Yorker (clearly, this is no ordinary junk food), World Candy Store has built a mailing list nearly 27,000 strong. For monthly fees starting at $19.99, customers can sample the "chosen" junk foods of countries ranging from Switzerland to Trinidad and Tobago. For those who can't commit, onetime gift packs are also available.

What fare do the Labuls favor? Matthew prefers Japan's snacks and misses its now-discontinued strawberry-flavored chocolate-covered raisins. Eric finds happiness in ZagZag--a chunky Japanese cookie stick. Whatever your favorite, go ahead and munch, encourages Matthew: "As long as you brush your teeth, you'll be fine."

They've Gotta Have It

What junk food do you crave? We asked some of today's hottest young entrepreneurs what tastes they can't live without:

By Victoria Neal

Name: Dineh Mohajer
Company/Location: Hard Candy/Beverly Hills, California
product: Funky cosmetics
"Any In-N-Out Burger. I start to crave it around 7 in the morning. It's sinfully yummy."

Name: Paul Frank
Company/Location: Paul Frank Industries/Costa Mesa, California
product: Fashion design
"A Carl's Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburger. That charbroiled, barbequey goodness harks back to my ancestors' days as cavemen."

Name: Jeanine Lobell
Company/Location: Stila Cosmetics/Los Angeles
product: Cosmetic products
"Auntie Barbara's Organic Cheese Puffs--I got hooked when [I] had kids and wanted to find snack foods that were healthy. [They] satisfy my snack craving without a sugar rush."

Names: Tish and Snooky Bellomo
Company/Location: Manic Panic/New York City
product: Punk/alternative hair color and cosmetics
"Our father, who lives in Argentina, introduced us to Dulce de Leche [a sweet, milk- and sugar-based sauce], which we smuggled back home," says Snooky. "Now we have it shipped over every chance we get. We practically live on it!"

Name: Laura Groppe
Company/Location: GirlGames Inc./Austin, Texas
product: Interactive software for girls
"Kit Kat bars. Why? I like the waxy chocolate film left over in my mouth. Where? At the movies--it's a quiet candy to eat. I eat it before the movie even starts; [then] I try to make the package look like there's still food in it so my boyfriend doesn't think I porked down the whole thing in three minutes!"

Will Your Idea Fly?

By Karen Axelton

You've got the greatest idea ever. Yep, this one's a winner.

Not so fast. Before you pour your blood, sweat and cash into that big idea, test it the Silicon Valley way.

"In less than 20 years, [Silicon Valley] has become the undisputed global high-tech leader," writes high-tech exec Elton B. Sherwin Jr. in The Silicon Valley Way (Prima Publishing, $20, 800-632-8676). In this compact but powerful book, Sherwin shares 44 techniques Silicon Valley's most successful entrepreneurs and execs use to decide whether new concepts are winners or losers.

Consider this book a boot camp for whipping your ideas into shape. Can you explain your concept in 10 seconds? Outline your entire business plan in 45? You will by the time Sherwin's through with you.

When you're finished reading, you'll emerge a lean, mean entrepreneurial machine, ready to do battle with the fiercest venture capitalist and win.

Upwardly Mobile

By Laura Tiffany

Americans. We like to be on the cutting edge, to live up to the moniker pioneers. Well, the bad news is Germany and Switzerland have beat us to the starting gate in establishing car-sharing as an alternative means of transportation. The good news? There's a virtually untapped market here in the United States.

Car-sharing allows people who don't own cars, or who need a second car occasionally, to "share" a car in a network. Members pay a refundable deposit to join the network; they reserve a car when needed and pay a mileage and hourly fee that's billed to their credit card. "Our rates include insurance, gasoline, repairs and maintenance," says David Brook, founder and owner of CarSharing Portland Inc. in Oregon, one of the only car-sharing companies in the nation.

Early on, Brook participated in a government-sponsored feasibility study to see if Portland was a good location for car-sharing. After finding enough interest to justify the service, he launched the business last March with a small government subsidy. Today, Brook has eight cars serving 100 members.

The main ingredient for success is a compatible location. "[Downtown] is where our niche is. It's not the suburbs," says Brook. "Clearly, it's going to be an urban phenomenon." Cities with excellent public transportation systems (think San Francisco or Boston) will be the best bets, as will cities where it's costly to own a car.

At least one for-profit car-sharing venture is under development in the San Francisco Bay Area. "In the next five years, I think you're going to see car-sharing in all the major cities of the U.S.," contends Brook. "There's a significant number of people looking for different ways to live their lives. They're making personal, financial and environmental statements about how they want to live."

Top 10 List

When you own your own business, life is just one big picnic. No worries. No sweat. No stress.

By Karen Axelton

No, not really. But some worries do disappear once you're your own boss. Our personal picks for the Top 10 Things You'll Never Have To Worry About Again Now That You're An Entrepreneur:

10. Those ungodly hoicking sounds the guy in the next cubicle makes every morning at 9:15 sharp

9. Spilling hot clam dip on the CEO's tie at the company holiday party

8. Ties, in general (ditto, pantyhose)

7. Being tapped for a make-or-break-your-career project . . . in which you're teamed with "Stinky Duane," the guy who clips his toenails during conference calls

6. Getting hit up to chip in for a gift every time one of your 8,500 co-workers gets married/pregnant/a year older

5. Team-building exercises (especially anything involving a parachute, a trampoline or a sheer rock cliff)

4. The frightening degree to which your life is beginning to mirror "Dilbert"

3. Whether taking a few packs of Post-it notes home (by accident, really!) truly constitutes "stealing" as defined by federal and state authorities

2. Producing memos, proposals, summaries, reports and billable-time logs to justify your existence to your boss, your boss's boss and your boss's boss's boss

1. Your boss, your boss's boss and your boss's boss's boss

Anatomy Of An Inbox

By Laura Tiffany

8 am Monday morning. Forty-two e-mails, 19 new voice-mail messages and a pile of snailmail left over from last week. It's enough to make you want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers up real high.

How do you dig your way out of a paperwork pile when you're playing the role of secretary as well as boss? "Once you pull something out of your in-basket and look at it, don't put it back in," advises David Allen, a personal organization and productivity consultant in Ojai, California. "You need a good system downstream from the in-basket." Here's Allen's:

Immediate Action: If the item will take two minutes or less or you can delegate it, do so immediately.

Action Items (things to be placed on to do lists) fall into five categories:

1. Someday/Maybe: "[These are] projects you might want to do, but not now."

2. Active Project Lists: "Projects to finish as soon as you can."

3. Calendar: "Actions that must be done on or at a specific date or time."

4. Waiting For: "Projects and action items other people are doing that you're [involved] in."

5. Running Next Actions: "Actions you need to do as soon as you can, [depending on] what's on your calendar." The list can be subcategorized by type: phone calls to make, e-mail and mail to send, etc.

No-Action Items (things that don't require immediate action or don't need to be placed on a to-do list) fall into three categories:

1. Trash: Things you obviously don't need to keep

2. Reference File: Items you may want to file for future reference

3. Research File: Items you want to read and research when you have extra time

"Your calendar and [running next] action lists need to be seen daily," Allen says. "Review projects, someday/maybes, and waiting-fors weekly."

Keep your lists in whatever format works for you. " `List' really means grouping similar items for easy review," Allen explains. That can be a paper-based list, a digital list (like on a PalmPilot, in Microsoft Outlook or in Lotus Organizer), or a file folder (like one labeled "Waiting For").

Five lists may sound like a lot, but Allen insists they actually make life easier. "If you have fewer than five lists, you have to blend at least two of these categories," he cautions. "Which are you going to put in the same list? If you [blend], you have to rethink the list every time you look at it, which is too much trouble."

Now's Your Chance

By Shara Lessley

The race is on for federal contracts. But don't assume you've got no shot at a procurement opportunity just because your company is small. With its new Very Small Business (VSB) Set-Aside Pilot Program, the SBA has leveled the playing field, giving even the nation's smallest businesses a chance to gain a foothold in the $200 billion federal marketplace for goods and services.

Under VSB guidelines, federal procurement contracts between $2,500 and $50,000 are set aside for businesses with 15 or fewer employees and less than $1 million in average annual receipts. Bidding companies must be located in one of the regions designated by the VSB program. Contracts aren't set aside, however, until the feds receive bids from at least two very small businesses that have the capacity to execute the full contract.

"Your first contract is the most difficult to get in the federal system," says the SBA's D.J. Caulfield. "If the system works the way it's supposed to, [entrepreneurs] will grow [their] businesses beyond the threshold of 15 employees and $1 million to the next level: the small-business set-aside."

The pilot program, which started in January and runs through September 30, 2000, operates in 10 geographical areas, including the entire states of Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Mexico, and various cities and counties throughout California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

For more information about the new VSB Set-Aside Pilot Program, contact the SBA at (800) 8-ASK-SBA for the area office for government contracting nearest you.

Contact Sources

CarSharing Portland Inc., (503) 872-9882, http://www.carsharing-pdx.com

David Allen, http://www.davidco.com

World Candy Store, (212) 580-0571