At my house, after the dishes were cleared from the Thanksgiving table and the visiting relatives went home, my brother and I would crash on the couch and watch TV. The Schran family does things a little differently. After their Thanksgiving feast in 1998, brothers Adam and Andrew, then 22 and 11, sat together and sketched out their plans for a software development company. They launched it two months later.
Philadelphia-based Ascentive LLC develops downloadable performance utility software that does everything from protecting privacy to synching your computer's clock with the atomic clock used by the federal government. All products are developed in-house and sold through the company's Web site, www.ascentive.com.
"It was kind of a hobby that took off," explains Adam, 26, the company's CEO. "There was no master plan at that time to have a company with employees, business partners, revenue and all that stuff."
In fact, the company took off so quickly that Adam wasn't able to put together a business plan. Ascentive still doesn't have one, and Adam likes it that way. "I think it's been beneficial over time because not having one has allowed us to innovate," he says. "I'm kind of comfortable with not having a plan, [but] it makes other people nervous."
The CEO does recognize, though, that as his company grows, the need to have a formalized business plan will become more pressing. Ascentive currently employs seven people at its 600-square-foot Philadelphia office but is in the process of moving into a 2,500-square-foot facility. Other anticipated changes include distributing its software through traditional retail channels, like office supply stores. "We're going to need more structure as we grow," admits Adam. "It's one thing to have an informal planning system in place when you've got seven people, but when you've got 70 or 700, you definitely need more formal structure in place."
The company's current customer base found Ascentive's products through affiliate Web sites that earn a 40 percent commission for every purchase. For a start-up company with no financing, this was a smart strategy. "If you have a well-crafted affiliate program, it's a good way to bring people in without having any upfront capital outlay," Adam says. "If you program customers in through advertising, you've got to have money in the bank to spend on that, but with affiliates you don't have to have money upfront."
Not that money is as much of a problem for the company today. In its first year of business, Ascentive earned $200,000 in sales. Now they're looking at about $2.2 million annually. Though Andrew has an equity stake in the company, his current role at Ascentive is that of silent partner. Being a ninth grader is taking priority over running a software company.