Peep Peep

Why One Company Chose This Route

Icebox creates original online animation. The four founders of Icebox started in November 1999 with an idea for a Web site that would be fresh and cool and different for their 15- to 34-year-old audience. They wanted to attract the top creative talent in Hollywood as contributors, but they knew they had to do it quickly, for their competition had already organized. Pop.com, the partnership that included Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Ron Howard and Paul Allen, had announced its intent to deliver digital content just one month before. (That venture never materialized, and the site is now owned by another company.)

All four founders of Icebox had quite impressive resumes. Sanford, 35, had founded and managed the new technology division at International Creative Management. The other three-Jonathan Collier, 39; Howard Gordon, 39; and Rob LaZebnik, 37-had built Hollywood reputations for their work on King of the Hill, The X-Files and The Simpsons.

The financial terms would have been substantially better with an angel in-vestment, but the Icebox team felt an incubator would accelerate the start-up phase. "We went to the incubator because we needed speed to market and we needed to scale the business quickly," says Sanford.

They chose a major incubator in the Los Angeles area: eCompanies, started by Jake Winebaum and Sky Dayton in mid-1999. The two are experienced entre-preneurs: Dayton, whom Sanford had known for several years, is the founder and chair of Earthlink, and Winebaum is a Disney graduate who worked on most of the Mouse's internal Internet projects. "We came here because Sky Dayton understood what we wanted to do and was passionate about it," says Sanford. "And we knew that Jake [Winebaum] had to think about content models before at Disney."

Icebox fit the eCompanies profile: It was a start-up with the potential to become No. 1 in its category, it used a concept that was fundamentally better online, and it met similar eCompanies criteria. Like most incubators, eCompanies is looking for entrepreneurs with track records who, while knowing what it takes to build a company, need help.

Starting with Sanford and a computer (the other founders kept their day jobs and contributed creative content), Icebox grew along the same path all incubatees at eCompanies follow. Sanford met with experienced teams headed by second-generation Internet executives in each of seven areas: business strategy, finance, recruiting, creative, technology, business development and marketing. The teams help founders build their companies until a permanent staff is hired-but, even then, they still work together in a symbiotic relationship. It saves time. For instance, the eCom-panies' recruiting department hires staff for all the start-ups. That frees up the entrepreneur's time for building the company fast.

Icebox went from idea to incubatee in only two months and launched its Web site five months later. The founders graduated soon after, sporting a strong man-agement team and a couple million in revenue. In addition, Icebox has continued to expand its offerings and has more than 23 programs, including its animated series "Starship Regulars," which is licensed to appear on Showtime.

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This article was originally published in the February 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Peep Peep.

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