From the December 1999 issue of Startups

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Overused by recess monitors for years, this advice to rise above it all didn't just induce eye-rolling--in a lot of cases, it wasn't that helpful. Now a slew of entrepreneurs are giving the finger to goody-goody social tactics and embracing a more aggressive (but fun) way to unleash steam.

Co-owners of Venice Beach, California, virtual and print card manufacturer The Original Insult Card Company , sisters Ilana, 33, and Sharone Levinsky, 30, turn on their wit where your nerve stops. From dealing with a "wicked mother-in-law and spineless ex-husband," the elder Levinsky has endured experiences rivaling any soap opera, complete with custody battles, a private eye and being thrown in jail. Now card material (like "Last night was not as good as I expected. Good Bye.") comes quite easily.

"It started with this desire to let the world know how much I was suffering," Ilana says, "but I tried to turn a bitter experience into a positive one." After sample cards caused weekend beach-goers to "laugh their heads off," the Levinskys saw green and launched the now-six-figure-strong company, which they run from home, in February 1997.

Good news for the bitter masses: The Levinskys' isn't the only cruel card company out there. Sayreville, New Jersey's Get Even! offers sour sentiments and sarcastic criticisms for loved ones, and C-ya Greeting Card Co. in Klamath Falls, Oregon , lets you say "Later" in ways you never imagined.

For those times when a greeting card isn't enough, some entrepreneurs take retaliation a step further. Harmless revenge tactics and prank tools are what Revengeunlimited.com is made of. Customers can log on to send an ex a dozen dead roses or read up on torment tips ranging from the subtle (put limburger cheese on her car engine) to the supreme (turn him in to the IRS). And software/book publisher Gadgets International Inc. in Jersey City, New Jersey, sells The Ultimate Guide To Getting Revenge software at www.books4you.addr.com .

If you're wondering how much opportunity the mean market presents, Ilana Levinsky (who took her cards on "The Howard Stern Show") puts it in perspective: "People don't want to confront people." Is that why her anonymous e-mail option is so popular?

And don't forget the market for post-confrontation enterprises. Mark's Apology Note Generator has served 9 million users since 1995. We can only imagine what's next.

Learn The Lingo

Hiring employees for your high-tech start-up? To help you sift through the scads of resumes, you'd better bone up on the latest vernacular. International outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. cites the following new terms you should know:

  • Born-Again Techies: careerswitchers taking computer crash courses in order to land high-paying tech jobs.
  • Challengings: sought-after workers who are prized for their ability to adapt quickly to change
  • Cyberboosting: creating bogus, Web-generated technical credentials to pad one's resume
  • Cyberseniors: retirees who return to the work force to fill high-tech jobs
  • E-cruiting: recruiting emplyees over the Internet
  • Graduate Grandeur: phenomenon in which new grads suffer from unrealistic salary expectations
  • Lifeperks: work/life benefits (such as flextime) that companies offer to improve employee productivity and morale
  • Permtemps: employees who remain forever part time
  • Y2K Roadies: employees whose high-tech tools let them work anywhere

Webmasters

By Laura Tiffany

Grab your pocket protector and laptop: School's back in session. The newest member of the Internet bandwagon--academia--wants to change the way you think about e-commerce.

Last fall, several universities began offering graduate degrees focusing on e-commerce. But is it worth the time and money to get such a degree, or is it better to get busy tapping out a business on your bedroom PC instead?

"There was an initial wave of the Internet where people just sort of rushed out without real clear ideas of how the business models were working. I think we're entering a phase now where, like any industry, the successful players are going to be the ones who understand how things work," says Erik Brynjolfsson, co-director of the electronic commerce and marketing track at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "And it's not going to be a matter of just being the first mover. It's going to be the first intelligent mover. That means individuals need to understand how e-commerce is creating opportunities and risks."

At MIT, the e-commerce track will be part of the school's two-year MBA program, and will offer students the chance to work with established companies like Dell and Lycos for a semester. Claremont Graduate University School of Information Sciences offers a one-year Masters of Science degree in electronic commerce, and the school plans to develop a joint program with the college of business in the near future. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Texas, have also added e-commerce to their graduate school curricula.

If you're not convinced you should head back to campus, you can still take advantage of the trend: These programs often require a semester-long internship where students help real-world businesses work out e-commerce kinks. What better place to look for your future Webmaster or Internet marketing manager?

High-Tech Hatchery

By Victoria Neal

The term "incubator" typically evokes the image of unhatched chicks anxious to break free and spread their wings, but in a "high-tech incubator," imagine those developing embryos as young technology start-ups and the exit strategy their goal of achieving a successful business.

One such environment is Egg Company 2 (EC2), The Annenberg Incubator Project at USC, a high-tech business incubator for start-ups involved in new technologies and new media. Located on a mini-campus near the University of Southern California, the facilities include the Annenberg House, home to fully wired office suites, and The Richard Neutra building, where development labs hold an array of multimedia tools, surrounding a plush, flower-studded courtyard. The stairwells and hallways of the Annenberg House are a bit bland, but the 900-square-foot suites are creative hotbeds charged with the distinct energies of each occupant. Equipped with top-of-the-line office furniture, phone lines, network resident start-ups enjoy a complete infrastructure of support for up to three years.

One of the nine companies currently occupying EC2 is Mixx Entertainment, an Internet media company targeting Gen Y with Japanese entertainment wares. Maturing handsomely since its arrival in 1997 from $500,000 to a projected $2 million to $3 million in 1999, Mixx was just steps away from graduation when we visited them at press time.

Reveling in the fact they didn't have to worry about the basics, CEO Stuart Levy, 32, praises incubators as ideal for companies with limited resources. "An incubator is great because it allows you to focus on building your business," he says. "We didn't have to pay for furniture, a lease deposit or phones--you just plug your computers in and they're good to go."

Mixx took advantage of EC2's development labs, or "hatcheries," which provide advanced production assistance such as 3-D computer animation and sound recording and editing capabilities. Computer networking isn't the only kind that's important here: "[The occupants] talk to each other all the time and trade information," Levy says. "The fact that everyone's coming from the same perspective makes it easier to communicate."

EC2 provides support services such as conference rooms, reception, postal and janitorial services, as well as use of basic business software, e-mail and the Internet--and, of course, the infinite resources of the university down the road. Monthly management round tables cover business issues from accounting to public relations.

"Our mission is to explore the wired world," explains executive director and USC Business professor Jon P. Goodman. Through its affiliations with venture capital funds and media technology ventures, EC2 helps start-ups do just that.

Top 10 List

Looking to hatch a high-tech company? Sally Hahow Linder at the National Business Incubation Association says these are the top 10 questions to ask before choosing a high-tech incubator:

1. Are you really an incubator? Many real-estate projects tag "incubator" onto their name because it has a good connotation.

2. Is there a manager, CEO or president on site? Ask about his or her background. A true incubator offers onsite management, not just a multitenant building with shared support services.

3. What is the incubator's mission? This tells you if it's the right environment for your start-up.

4. What are the screening criteria? This determines whether you're incubator-ready.

5. What are lease terms? Some incubators charge rent, fees or take royalties from tenants.

6. What business assistance services are offered, who provides them and what are their backgrounds? Services can range from business planning to marketing assistance.

7. Can you tell me about other tenants and the graduated companies' success stories? Networking is key to incubating, so know who you'll be meeting in the halls.

8. What is the graduation policy? Find out how long you can stay and what you're expected to accomplish.

9. Is there flexible space so you can move to larger quarters if necessary?

10. Is the incubator a member of the NBIA or other professional development association for business incubation?

Contact Sources

Center for e-business @ MIT, htttp://ebusiness.mit.edu

Cranium Inc., (206)652-9708, www.playcranium.com

Egg Co. 2, (213)743-2344, www.ec2.edu

Mixx Entertainment Inc., (213)743-2519, www.mixxonline.com

National Business Incubation Association, 20 E. Circle Dr. #190, Athens, OH 45701, www.nbia.org