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A Strong Response

This direct-marketing team took the high road, and became young millionaires.

Company description:CCM Marketing Inc., a media buying advertising agency specializing in the direct-response market

Founders: Suzy da Silva, 33, and Nicole Licata, 35

Location: San Luis Obisbo, California

Projected 2004 sales: $30 million

Directly Speaking: Suzy da Silva and Nicole Licata met in 1998 while working at a direct-response advertising agency, and the lack of ethics they sometimes witnessed inspired the pair to branch out on their own in 2001. "We wanted to do something that would treat the clients better," says Licata, "because direct response in general is a not-so-upfront industry. A lot of people take your money and don't tell you why they're taking it."

Timing Troubles: After the partners started their business in July 2001, the 9/11 terrorist attacks nearly put a quick stop to their venture because nobody was watching or buying from infomercials-it was all news all the time. To get through it, the pair went to TV stations directly to look for compromises and ad rate reduction deals that would help everybody-their clients, the stations and themselves-to survive. "Everyone had to be a team at that point," says da Silva.

Know Thyself: Says Licata, "We're both salespeople, so we have a lot of people watching over what is not our strong point-accounting. If you see a weakness in your business and you don't [understand] it, don't pretend you do. Hire somebody."

One Big Family: During the lean times after 9/11, da Silva and Licata vowed they wouldn't lay off a single employee. Though they had to forgo their own paychecks for a time, and each gained 25 pounds from the stress of it all, they kept their promise. Says da Silva, "We didn't want people out in that kind of environment. It's like a family here." The result: incredibly loyal employees and a knowledge that the duo can get through anything-including successfully losing their stress-related pounds.

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