Joel Haspel

COMPANY: AliVE Multimedia Group LLC is a Herndon, Virginia, consulting firm that also develops software and databases for companies' specific needs.

BLUNDER: partnering with people who had very similar strengths

Let's say you love flying, but you've never stepped foot in a cockpit. If you wanted to start an airline business, you'd probably hire a pilot, right? Two years ago, Joel Haspel, 22, vice president of AliVE and Bid Outlet (DBA AuctionOctopus, a subsidiary of AliVE), teamed up with his brother Daniel, now 18, Tim Simms, 26, and Basil Carter, 27. There's not a "pilot" among them.

Many times, that's fine. Entrepreneurs are often created on the job. But the foursome, having only computer programming skills, soon found that running a business can be just as hard as distinguishing RAM from ROM.

The AliVE business plan was pretty lean. "Mistakes we made," says Haspel, "included not [thinking about] product-development planning while providing services, not bringing in more developers as the cash was earned, and not knowing enough about expense projections to determine how much we'd need to save in order to shift into product development."

The crew lacked marketing experience, too. And money. Their mistakes, says Haspel, were "juvenile." So they found someone who wasn't so juvenile: Jim Senker, a 39-year-old who had already run his own successful company. And now AliVE Multimedia Group brought in $200,000 last year, helped greatly by its subsidiary, AuctionOctopus, an auction meta-search engine.

But never mind that. What's Haspel's advice? Find a local or regional entrepreneurial center or business incubator. In Haspel's case, he and his crew went to the Morino Institute, an incubator in Reston, Virginia. That's how he found Senker, the new CEO of AuctionOctopus and a man who apparently has a knack for understanding business plans, raising venture capital and all the other pesky pitfalls that can cause a company to stumble. Haspel is grateful for having learned a lot about entrepreneurship, and as executive vice president of strategic development, he'll continue to learn.

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Gotcha!.

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