From the August 1999 issue of Startups

We're not saying one's high school persona can't be escaped. (God forbid.) But when we asked some successful entrepreneurs, "In high school, what clique were you in?" we couldn't help noticing a connection between their teenage temperaments and the businesses they started.

Name/Age: Steve Lake, 30

Company/Location: Sector 9 Inc., San Diego

Product: Skateboards

Clique: "Classified as a semi-jock, partying, surfer guy. To me it was a great clique with lots of positive people. Actually, five of my friends from high school now run our multimillion-dollar company."

Name/Age: Kristin Knight, 31

Company/Location: Creative Assets, Seattle

Service: Staffing firm

Clique: "I generally got along with all the different groups. My group of friends were good students, very involved with school activities, but we got into our share of trouble. I was a cheerleader and worked in student government."

Name/Age: Price Givens, 28

Company/Location: Vervex Technologies; Irvine, California

Product: Database and corporate intranet software

Clique: "I had most of my interests outside of school. I hacked on my computer, I did a lot of technical drawings, I fabricated elaborate make-believe corporations and came up with all kinds of crazy science experiments. I hold an informal patent on a weather device that alerted me in my sleep if it began snowing enough to cancel school."

Name/Age: Anthony Mark Hankins, 30

Company/Location: Anthony Mark Hankins Inc., Dallas

Product: Women's sportswear

Clique: "I was the `fashion police' . . . I once wore a burlap cape to school with an artist's hat and leather pants. Some people talked about it for a while, but before the day was over, everyone was raving `burlap' and what a wonderful fashion find."

You Snooze, You Gain

By Victoria Neal

All of us know the agony of the post-lunch lull: the heavy eyelids, the inability to form complete sentences, the longing for the warm bed so reluctantly abandoned that morning. If you can sympathize, the solution to your slump could be simple: napping during your workday.

"[The American work force] is nap-ready," says Bill Anthony, a professor at Boston University and co-founder of The Napping Co. Inc. (http://www.napping.com), a Reading, Massachusetts, napping products and services business. "Since the invention of the light bulb, we have become a sleep-deprived culture." According to a study done by the National Sleep Foundation in 1998, nearly one in three Americans sleep as little as six hours or less per night during the workweek (experts recommend at least 8 hours), and 37 percent of adults report being so sleepy it interferes with daily activities. No wonder sleepiness costs U.S. businesses more than $18 billion annually in lost productivity.

You say you don't have time to get your work done, let alone sleep? Anthony, who is compiling data for a book on workplace napping, contends all it takes is a 15- to 20-minute timeout.

Priscilla Jane Dwyer, 37-year-old owner of Carpe Diem Games LLC, a manufacturer of award-winning children's card games, naps at the office at least once a week. "After a nap, I have much more concentration," says the Reading, Massachusetts, entrepreneur.

Next time your neck is having trouble supporting your head, do yourself a favor and take a brief snooze. Both you and your business will see positive results.

Smart Move

Count Sheep

  • Worried about nodding off into a La La Land coma? Try Westclox's Napmate ($15), a compact, folding alarm clock with a 15- or 30-minute timed "nap" button. Available at Wal-Mart and Kmart.
  • The Company Store, a mail-order business, offers the Executive Napping Pillow Kit ($79.99-$95.99), an executive briefcase equipped with a pillow, a pillowcase and a copy of Bill Anthony's The Art of Napping (Larson, $9.95, 800-828-2197). Visit http://www.thecompanystore.com or call (800) 285-DOWN.

Cyber Classes

By Amanda C. Kooser

Online education is a growing industry, and the SBA is getting into the act with its SBA Classroom (http://www.sba.gov), which offers three courses: "How to Raise Capital for a Small Business," "Are You Y2K Okay?" and "The Business Plan." Our senior editor, Cynthia E. Griffin, logged on to check it out.

The lessons are simply written, so if you're somewhat knowledgeable about the subject, the information will seem very basic. But if you're a novice, they're a good starting point.

For example, since business financing is my "beat," I was more critical of the lesson on capital. Although it mentions various options, it concentrates on obtaining a bank loan--not always the most realistic option for start-ups.

Because I'm not as knowledgeable about computers, I learned more from the Y2K course. It not only explains which of your own systems may be impacted by the millennium bug, but also makes you consider the external forces that could affect your company, such as your suppliers and partners.

Once you've finished each course, a quiz tests what you've learned. If you want more details, click on the resources following each course. There are specific references for each topic, plus suggestions on which U.S. and Canadian government and quasi-governmental agencies can offer more information, and links to a variety of business publications.

Enrollment is free; you need Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator 4.0 or higher. Those with Netscape also need the ScriptActive plug-in, 30-day shareware you can download from the SBA Classroom site. (This includes a companion plug-in, DocActive, which isn't required for the SBA Classroom; if you elect to take it, be aware it could alter how your e-mail functions.)

Like any good school, course offerings will change, so don't forget to check back periodically to see what's new.

The Name's Bond

You're battling business competitors, not global villains--but why not exhibit some James-Bond-style flair while doing so? Here, our picks for products guaranteed to make you feel positively 007:

Size does matter . . . when you're on the go. At 2 pounds, the BJC-50 bubble-jet printer is smaller than your laptop. Whether you're traveling by plane or llama, jet-setting or visiting clients down the street, you can print two color pages per minute or 5 ½ black and white without running back to the office.

  • BJC-50
  • Canon Computer Systems
  • (800) OK-CANON
  • http://www.ccsi.canon.com
  • Street Price: $349

It's a cell phone, it's a date book, it's a Web browser . . . it's the pdQ Smartphone! It's also an address book, e-mail reader and pager. The pdQ is a Palm III platform PDA grafted onto a cellular phone. It runs all programs available for the Palm III, with stylus input and cable for hookup to your PC (optional MacPac available).

  • pdQ Smartphone
  • Qualcomm
  • (800) 349-4188
  • Street Price: $399

For undercover spy missions or everyday business "video memos," consider the Ruvi, the world's smallest camcorder. Conveniently disguised as a still camera, it holds up to 30 minutes of HI8XR-quality video and audio, or 350 still images with five seconds of audio apiece. Stored on a reusable cartridge, the video and audio can be downloaded to a VCR, camcorder or PC.

  • Ruvi
  • Sony Electronics
  • (800) 222-sony
  • Street Price: $599

Gotta Have It!

By Laura Tiffany

Hold back the crowd. We have the complete series of 1968 Psychedelic Flower Pez for $500 each! If you think that's too steep a price to pay, we have a footless, dark green Mr. Ugly for only $45!

Huh?

Oh, never mind. Only a true Pezhead understands the joy of displaying a prized $300 vintage dispenser. But it's OK. Said Pezhead can just hop online and share the glorious news with a member of the Pezhead e-mail group.

If you're feeling a bit left out, don't. Look around. You probably collect something, and unless it's bellybutton lint, there's a chance someone else out there in the world collects it, too. With fan pages, e-mail groups and newsgroups, obsessed fans are no longer alone, and even the nichiest of niche passions are making it out into the real world, where fans-turned-entrepreneurs are starting businesses to feed collectors' frenzies.

Joseph Somers started SomersZoo (http://www.somerszoo.com) in 1996 to sell toy, character and ad collectibles (with an emphasis on Pez dispensers) online. Last year, he made the leap to a Chicago storefront. "The opportunity to collect is way bigger than people know," says Somers, 28, of the Pez scene. "The Internet has created a forum for that information to be distributed. Now anybody can [pursue] a global hobby instead of being confined to where they live."

Michael Bochiccio found a niche of his own online--selling Lucha Libre, or Mexican wrestling, masks--while catering to the huge community of wrestling fans with American and Japanese merchandise. "I don't think there's a lot for males ages 15 to 30 on television," says Bochicchio, 26, who started his company, Highspots Inc. (http://www.highspots.com), last year after he took a trip to Mexico. "Wrestling is a man's soap opera." Fans collect toys and T-shirts of their favorite stars, then go online to discuss their exploits on and off the mat.

Some obsessions have equal presence both offline and on. Fans of Anime and Manga (Japanese animation and comics) form clubs to view films and will travel to find merchandise with their favorite characters. Andy Joo's goal is to make products more accessible to old fans--and new--by making his five-store Southern California chain, Manga House, newcomer-friendly. "I focus on what's popular," says Joo, 34. With more than 3,000 Anime TV series and movies in Japan, and only a handful familiar to U.S. viewers, Joo believes Anime will only get bigger.

As for wrestling and Pez? Well, if Hulk Hogan runs for president, there's no telling where this sweaty sport will end. And as long as Pez keeps churning out dispensers featuring popular characters like Snoopy and Donald Duck, these low-tech candy machines will have a crossover audience.

Wrestling

  • Buzzwords:Juice means blood (what else?); gimmick refers to the wrestler's costume, props, lifestyle, etc.; a person who thinks wrestling is real is a mark; bump refers to the way a wrestler lands on the mat in order to lessen the impact and minimize the risk for injury.
  • Mecca: Minnesota, of course.
  • Wear: Anything spandex, and don't forget your mask.
  • Hot: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
  • Buzzkill: Everyone knows it's fake; don't even discuss it.

Anime

  • Buzzword:Otaku means a hardcore fan, but use with caution--some people think it's offensive.
  • Bored: Learn Japanese.
  • Wear: Toys as accessories and Technicolor everything.
  • Hot:Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Pokémon (for the elementary school set).
  • Buzzkill: Watch Japanese and American versions of Sailor Moon; create your own Web site, and use it to rant about translation and censorship.

Pez

  • Buzzwords:Floppyhead means the Pez head is broken; dispensers manufactured without feet are footless.
  • Hot: European lines like Asterix.
  • Buzzkill: Large toy store chains selling Pez for $3 each when the drugstore across the street has them for 79 cents.

Contact Sources

Anthony Mark Hankins Inc., (800) 789-4264

Carpe Diem Games LLC, P.O. Box 741, Reading, MA 01867, (781) 944-2838

Creative Assets Inc., (888) 304-9600, info@creativeassets.com

Manga House,andy@mangahouse.com

Sector 9 Inc., (619) 552-1296, http://www.sector9.com

Vervex Technologies, (800) 841-6621, larry@vervex.com