Quick Change

Get Your Motor Running

While most start-ups slowly work their way toward the $1 million plateau, others are built for speed. MyPrimeTime, a digital media company that produces success-oriented TV programming and a similarly oriented Web site, was founded by movers and shakers in the broadcast media world who knew how to get to $1 million-fast.

"Throughout the company, there was a sense of urgency," says Craig Forman, 39, co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based start-up. "We had deadlines before we started, and we hired for speed. That's the only way you can get to $1 million in the first year."

"Throughout the company, there was a sense of urgency. We had deadlines before we started, and we hired for speed. That's the only way you can get to $1 million in the first year."

MyPrimeTime's founders were focused on the bottom line. "We come from the old world [i.e., companies including AOL and CNN], so we're geared toward profitability," says Helen Whelan, 46, co-founder and president. "We always look at things from a cost-benefit analysis."

Giving employees the freedom to communicate and make their own decisions was a big part of MyPrimeTime's first-year ascent. "We couldn't have moved so quickly if everyone internally wasn't empowered to run their own group," says Forman. "If you create an environment of mutual respect and communication, you get more out of the team."

Forman and Whelan's extensive experience in broadcast media kept MyPrimeTime growing while many Internet start-ups were hitting the skids. In January, by making the most of their industry connections, they launched Great Entrepreneurs, a weekly half-hour PBS show that profiles famous entrepreneurs of the past century. "Television is considered very sexy, and people want to be around it," says Whelan. "Plus, with our background in broadcasting, we could immediately go in as a partner with PBS and create a TV show."

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Their partnership with PBS also gave MyPrimeTime a national platform from which to reach its target audience: baby boomers. "PBS is perfect for our demographic," says Whelan. "It's classy, and it's for people who want to educate themselves and get better at what they do. The show dovetails perfectly with the message on our Web site."

Forman and Whelan struggled with personnel decisions during their first year. "There was a time when we thought we weren't hiring big enough or fast enough, but then we had to lay off 30 people," says Whelan. "It's easy to get ahead of yourself and spend a lot of money when you're growing."

"The nuance here is, you have to be fast, but you've got to stick to your plan," says Forman. "Our mantra is, 'We don't do frantic well.' Speed is important, but you must have your eye on the long term, not the short term. Especially now, growth must be evolutionary, not revolutionary."

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This article was originally published in the July 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Quick Change.

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