With the rise of hidden cameras and other Mission Impossible devices, it seems society's sliding into a paranoid oblivion. But increasing levels of concern aren't all that unjustified when kids' safety is at stake. Luckily, Frank Wagner, 30, and Eric Foster, 31, owners of Online Video Communications Inc. (OVC) in Dallas, discovered the middle ground between going overboard and gaining peace of mind.
Wagner and Foster's nerve-calming solution, Watch-Me!, lets parents see their kids in child-care centers via cameras which, placed inside the center, send snapshots to the company's security-controlled Web site.
The partners met in 1994, in a part-time MBA program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Like many start-ups, OVC was born of an entrepreneurial class--but the idea for Watch-Me! had more to do with the fact that Wagner's wife was expecting their son around the time of incorporation. After building a business plan in the summer '96 class, the two raised $300,000 in start-up capital from angel investors and transformed their idea into a real-life project.
It's still just Wagner and Foster running the show. On any given day, one of them mans the office, while the other heads off to install a system or attend a trade show. Staying lean has helped the company become profitable, and the partners are content on their own--especially since Watch-Me! is fully-automated: "It's a beauty," says Wagner. "It turns itself on in the morning and shuts itself off at night."
But expect their workload to increase very soon (and not just because Wagner's wife had another baby in September). Though Watch-Me! is currently in 26 child-care centers spanning eight states, as soon as OVC finds expansion capital, the partners plan to "staff up" and grow their center count.
Does all this talk of growing and children make Foster long for the sound of little footsteps? "No, not yet," quips Wagner. "He's afraid."
Some 22-year-olds are accomplished Nintendo 64 jockeys--and then there's Amar Goel. Please note some highlights of his resume: graduated in June from Harvard with a master's in computer science and a bachelor's in economics; played on Harvard's varsity golf team; started a thriving Internet retail business (and a magazine before that).
Seems like a lot to fit into a school schedule, but Goel did it. In August 1995, right before his sophomore year, he started Chip Shot Golf Corp. from his dorm room. It proved as good a place as any, since the company, which sells custom-built and brand-name golf clubs, could easily be run from anywhere. All Goel needed was a phone and e-mail access to take care of customers, and software so people could order his wares. He could even take the business home with him in the summer.
A couple of friends, the input of a local golf pro and minimal cash helped him get started. "It's funny--lots of companies start out these days with a couple million dollars in the bank or [in] funding. [Chip Shot] started with $350 and ran close to three years [before] another penny went into it," Goel recalls.
Things have changed. In July, Chip Shot moved out of the dorm and into offices in Sunnyvale, California. The company made almost $1 million last year, and Goel's proud to say it's profitable enough to offer its 19 employees a darn good benefits package.
Sure, playing golf has graced his agenda only twice since graduation (thanks to 12-hour workdays, seven days a week), but this entrepreneur insists he gets more fulfillment from "revolutionizing" the industry.
Chip Shot Golf Corp., (800) 817-3578, http://www.chipshotgolf.com
Online Video Communications Inc., (888) 5-WATCH-ME, http://www.watchme.com