From the April 2000 issue of Startups

Noticing the growing abundance of Internet-based start-up companies in the San Francisco Bay area motivated Terri Spears, 32, to launch her own virtual assistant business. Spears, whose AskHR.com works only with midsized e-commerce companies, outsources full-service HR on a part-time basis-just until clients are mature enough (usually when they have around 100 employees) to hire someone full time.

Providing such functions as recruitment, compensation planning and stock-options administration, Spears quickly steers today's start-ups in the right direction. "They need benefits, they have no idea how much to pay people, and they don't know what the market rate is, so they need information and knowledge," Spears explains.

After pulling in grad school friend Leslie Hill to act as CFO, Spears, who at the time was a human resources director for a bank, gave her notice and, within four months, located and equipped an office. "Creative financing is what we were up to," says Spears, "trying to figure out what we could apply to credit and what we could apply to personal money." About $17,000 later, with office in order and Web site up, Spears started looking for networking events that drew entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. "That was finding what we called `friends of the company,' " she says. "People who could be evangelists for what we do and had contact with entrepreneurs."

Today, after getting about 35 companies off to a rip-roaring start, AskHR.com has grown to a staff of 10 and generates about 20 calls per month from start-ups in need of more than just the latest compliance guidelines. Although it works mostly with Silicon Valley businesses, AskHR.com has trickled down into the Southern California area, all the while distinguishing itself by offering true partnerships through its on-site presence. "Most firms that are trying to be virtual are just e-mailing policies and guidelines," explains Spears. "That's really not what start-ups need. They need presence, a partnership and coaching, and they really need recruitment services much more than any of the other compliance stuff."