From the May 1999 issue of Startups

Pre-teen bliss is usually defined by Friday-night roller rink excursions and sneaking into R-rated movies. But by his wonder years, Chris Morrison, now 30, had the future at his fingertips.

Spending his weekends with a borrowed school computer (that is, until his mom bought him an Apple), Morrison quickly declared hacking a favorite pastime, along with programming and writing software--all self-taught skills.

By 15, Morrison was getting paid for teaching clients how to use the then-new technology. As for his should've-been junior year, he says, "[High school] wasn't the most exciting place to be, so I ended up `sick' a lot." To continue working, Morrison opted for a home tutor and limited classes to one day a week. Spoiled, he repeated the arrangement his senior year but didn't graduate due to the lack of a few credits.

But that wasn't the demise of Morrison's technological career. Today, he co-owns 10-year-old, 41-employee-strong PLP Digital Systems in Scottsdale, Arizona--an international company that'll make nearly $10 million this year by providing software-based integrated document control and reprographic systems to such clients as architectural and engineering firms, government agencies and utility companies (to name a few).

Morrison designed software for the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction at age 17 and used his earnings to develop and sell his own products, which included a handheld time accounting system. The car-auction circuit eventually led him to Michael Addison, now his partner, who supplied PLP Digital Systems with the $15,000 it needed in start-up cash.

As for venturing out into "the real world" sans diploma, Morrison says, "If you can support yourself and are comfortable with potentially making no money, it's worth a try. You can always go back to school."

Lights, Computer, Action

Been toying with an idea that's a bit experimental and a tad risky--but perfect for a 21st-century Internet venture? Thomas Edwards and Carla Cole, owners of Webcasting company The Sync (http://www.thesync.com), say an immediately profitable start-up is key. After establishing credibility, you can spread your wings, change course and fly (along with angel investors more willing to back you).

"The risk is low [if you're] Internet-experienced. If your company goes under, you [can always] go back to your safe, $60,000-a-year job," says Edwards, 29.

Fortunately, Edwards and his life/business partner, Cole, 24, haven't had to look back since starting The Sync in July 1997 with $10,000 in cashed-in stock options from Edwards' old ISP job. To get some cash flowing, the company did production jobs, putting a variety of live events online for clients, including Capitol Hill officials. Eventually, Edwards and Cole stepped up to producing original content.

Since then, the pair's been making history. Last March, the Laurel, Maryland, company became the first to present a contemporary feature film for Internet viewing. Last summer, it produced and released the first public service announcement made for the Net. A slew of original programming is at the core of The Sync's success, including "The Jenni Show," hosted by Jennifer Ringley of JenniCAM fame; and "Meeks Unfiltered," a review of techno-politics led by MSNBC journalist Brock Meeks. "The Sync Online Film Festival" presents original short films in a variety of genres 24 hours a day.

Hush-hush about sales, The Sync profits from advertising. (There's no charge to view programming.) Offering video ads, or online commercials, only adds fuel. Right now, Edwards and Cole, the only full-time employees, are expanding their sales staff, but foresee a buyout in a year or so. Says Edwards, "As Internet video content becomes more important to a bigger market, I think a lot of traditional media companies or large Internet portals will try to utilize us instead of trying to develop their own programs."

Contact Sources

PLP Digital Systems, (800) 444-PLOT, http://www.plp.com

The Sync, http://www.thesync.com