What's Up, Doc?

The Comeback

A few months earlier, their second child had been born, and so Shelley, in light of her full-time mothering duties, now significantly restricts her involvement in the company to developing the product line, while Louis works as the CEO. They also have 12 full-time and three part-time employees, plus a warehouse, instead of their bedroom, for inventory.

As much work as Louis does these days, he's the first to say: "We founded the company together. It was a joint effort. It's because of Shelley's vision that I'm here today."

Shelley, however, gives all the credit to her husband for their newest business' success: "He will not take no for an answer," she says.

He also learns from his mistakes. "We've avoided [Web] banners like the plague," says Louis. And, while it's getting harder to do so, for a long time Louis was able to negotiate cheaper advertising rates on the Internet by refusing to pay the going rate.

"Companies like drugstore.com and MotherNature-they advertise on similar sites to where we do, and they pay anywhere from $10 to probably $30 sometimes for a lot of these e-zines, and we're always wheeling and dealing and negotiating deals," Louis says. "Somebody will say, 'My price is $10 per CPM [the term media use when referring to 1,000 people looking at your ad],' and we'll say, 'No, we want to pay $2 or $3.' When we get rejected, we say, 'Fine, call us back when you have a dead day. Even if it's 15 minutes before [you need the ad], if there's a cancellation, if you can't sell an ad and you'd rather have $2 than nothing, then call us.' Everybody wants something rather than nothing, and we've built a lot of our business on that premise."

It's apparently a pretty good premise. Louis has a watched drkoop.com and drugstore.com lose a substantial amount of their stock value in the past year, and he thinks the high advertising rates that those sites have helped create are a big reason that so many companies have a tough time making money.

In another breath, Louis exclaims, "But we're getting to the size where it's hard to keep cutting the deals, which is why we're looking to raise money now." Ah, the myriad problem of being a strong, health e-commerce company. Is there a venture capitalist in the house?

Geoff Williams frequently contributes to Entrepreneur. He hasn't had a cold in over a year.

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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 October 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What's Up, Doc?.

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