Undefeated Seasons

Ups & Downs

Whether an individual business does well or poorly depends on a number of factors. For companies affected directly by the attacks, the year has been filled with challenges. Strategic Communications, for example, lost physical infrastructure, technology, client files, tax returns and more. Dreifus and her staff pieced together much of the work by obtaining copies from clients and searching their home computers for work they had done after hours.

Dreifus estimates that the $5 million company has lost about $1.5 million in sales during the past year. Some of those losses were offset by loans and grants. Strategic Communications received a World Trade Center Business Recovery Grant and a Lower Manhattan Business Retention Grant, both from the New York City Economic Development Corp. The company also received an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan of almost $250,000.

"It took us almost eight months to get back to where we were on September 10, 2001," says Dreifus. "But now we are managing all the old projects we had and we're finally starting to work on new business."

Strategic Communications is now located in a nondescript building on Manhattan's lower East Side-far from their old site, but close enough to clients. The company was able to avoid layoffs, and the staff is determined to move on, Dreifus says. Still, personal effects of the tragedy remain. Says Dreifus, "I think it's going to take a long time for people to recover, even though business itself is coming back."

For Vishal Garg and Raza Khan, the twentysomething managing directors of MyRichUncle.com, the year has been equally tumultuous. In July 2001, they moved their student finance company into offices on the 78th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Luckily, neither Garg nor Khan was in the building when the plane hit, but it took nearly eight hours to determine that just one of their 12 employees was. When the attack began, she was in the lobby and sustained minor injuries.

The staff gathered the next day to form a strategy for saving the company, a student-financing site through which investors fund tuition in exchange for a percentage of students' post-graduation income. The employees split up immediate tasks: filing an insurance claim, determining data lost, securing office space and so on. Through it all, their site remained live because it was hosted elsewhere and backed up in several locations.

Nevertheless, the attacks came at a particularly inopportune time. The company was in the process of negotiating a major investment deal and poised to enter an aggressive marketing phase. The deal fell through, and the marketing campaign had to be put on hold. Garg and Khan decided not to fill vacant positions, shrinking the company down to four employees.

"To not be able to pursue that marketing plan and business development delayed our growth significantly," says Garg. Nevertheless, MyRichUncle.com is again in discussions with prospective investors, and Garg estimates the company took in about $5 million in investments and fees this year.

MyRichUncle.com eventually relocated to the Woolworth Building, about 10 blocks north of Ground Zero. And the remaining employees have adjusted well. "We've dealt with the setback, and we've become stronger," says Garg. "We're much more flexible, much more dynamic and much more cohesive as a result of all this."

Khan is just as upbeat about the performance of MyRichUncle.com and the company's prospects. "We haven't let the doubters stop us; we haven't let the challenges of a recession stop us," he says. "And we're not going to let terrorism stop us."

Make sure your business sticks around to see the good times. These articles will help.

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Undefeated Seasons.

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