From the June 1999 issue of Startups

Jason Monberg, 27, and Felicia Lindau, 32, founders of Sparks.com, want to make you (and every other Internet user) the friend/sibling/child/employee/etc. you've always dreamed of being. They might not make world peace happen tomorrow, but since launching their online greeting card superstore last December, it's safe to say these old friends have at least made a dent in the "goodwill to all" effort.

The genesis of Sparks.com is no accident. In fact, it's as easy to calculate as third-grade math: Lindau's dad was a "multiventure" entrepreneur, plus Lindau's 11 years in technology marketing (four of them launching Amazon.com and Excite), divided by the technological wizardry of Monberg, equals enough volition, insider knowledge and intellect to join the ranks of the e-commerce elite.

But Lindau contends that above all, Sparks.com is a consumer retail business. "We're hoping to fuel relationships, and there's nothing technological about that," she says.

Technology, however, is the enabler of the company's bevy of services: search functions so detail-oriented that sifting through the more than 6,000 available greeting cards is effortless; e-mail reminder services so customers never miss a birthday or holiday; same-day shipping; a record of customers' ordering histories; gift certificates from partners like Barnes & Noble--the list goes on.

With so much to maintain, you'd think the company's 15,000-square-foot San Francisco office would be a huge den of stress. OK, so it probably is. But it's an enjoyable place in which to be stressed: Employee "desks" are self-designed sawhorse/door creations, and a huge, whimsical mural brings potential stuffiness down a notch. "It's definitely not time clocks, suits and ties," says Lindau--but the office environment's not so laid-back that goals fall by the wayside, either.

Using independent contractors and 26 full-timers to their utmost potential, CEO Lindau and chief technical officer Monberg aim to build a "100-year brand" and add even more services. Being young and inspired, they want all upgrades to happen in a day's time, but Lindau, who'll only say the company's growing "big, fast," takes it one day at a time. After all, at press time, she was still working on getting thank-you cards to her loved ones following a major holiday. How late was she? The envelope is sealed.

Three's Company

The fellows behind Net One, an Internet solutions provider in Boston, run a business with a conscience. When asked how a company facing the new millennium should be run, "being socially aware and socially minded" are thrown into the mix. But philanthropy, these entrepreneurs say, should be a priority--not just a goal to ponder.

Richard Skelton, Charles Strader (both 23) and Pablo Mondal, 22, have helped universities, computer manufacturers and small businesses with services from Web site design to e-commerce since 1996. But bringing worthy organizations, inner-city schools and community centers closer to the 21st century via technology is also part of their vision; the partners do it for free as they see fit.

The entrepreneurial careers of Skelton, Strader and Mondal began in their sophomore year with nothing but personal computers in the apartment they shared while attending Boston University. Skelton and Strader were working in the BU computer support center when a hair salon owner called wanting a Web site built. A little extra time and plenty of confidence later, a business was born.

Now, after serving more than 100 companies, the Net One crew expects sales of $500,000 to $750,000 this year. A modest space in a downtown Pizzeria Uno building houses their American dream. "It has a professional look, but if we're working [and clients aren't around], we make sure music's playing," says Strader. Tunes even poured through the phone's earpiece while this interview with Skelton was being arranged.

For these three, working together is a sure thing. They've endured business-related financial hardships, and now the only thing left to brave is returning to the college grind they left behind a year and a half into the business. Studies won't cramp their business' style, say the partners, who plan to keep Net One going strong despite going back to school.

Contact Sources

Net One, (888) 9-NET-ONE, http://www.onechoice.com

Sparks.com,felicia@sparks.com, http://www.sparks.com