In The Zone
If you think finding the perfect PC, printer or other office solution for your business is a pain, you'll understand the appeal of Mie-Yun Lee and Brenda Chin Hsu's BuyersZone.com Inc. (http://www.buyerszone.com). Office managers can order crates full of Post-its with ease, and start-up entrepreneurs can stock up more efficiently with help from the Watertown, Massachusetts, company.
"The entire concept grabbed me, and I was lured away to join [BuyersZone] in its crusade," says Hsu, 32, of her first encounter with Lee's then-4-year-old company in 1996. Hsu, who worked for an online publishing company, was looking for information relevant to small businesses, so she turned to BuyersZone, a business products research company that distributed advice via newsletters and articles Lee wrote.
"In 1995, [BuyersZone did] a piece on the Internet as an emerging tool for small businesses," says Lee, 30. Then she realized the Internet could solve two of BuyersZone's problems: the print medium's inescapable propensity to publish outdated material, and the inability to link readers with manufacturers.
Thanks to Hsu's background in finance and marketing, BuyersZone landed a small round of funding from private investors and launched its site in 1997. Since then, companies have been eating up the site's product and service menu, which allows them to learn about products, compare prices and features, and buy from 5,500 suppliers. Sales should hit $2.5 million this year.
Lee and Hsu are now growing their staff and fine-tuning their site. Luckily, neither have endured gender or racial blockades along the way. "But," says Lee, "it was a problem when Brenda and I had similar hairstyles."
Says Hsu, "[People] couldn't tell the difference between us."
Body and Soul
Trying to fit society's beauty mold is pointless--Fitscape Inc. owner Bryan Rosencrantz, 25, can attest to that. He was taunted for being out of shape as a kid, teased for being too thin after taking up sports in high school, and now fields steroid jokes because of weightlifting bulk. Thankfully, Rosencrantz has had more to think about in the past four years than people who lack a hobby. He's transformed the personal gains fitness brought him into a Net-based mini-empire that makes healthy living available to the masses, direct from the stomping grounds of Chrissy Snow and Jack Tripper--Santa Monica, California.
Upholding tradition (his family owns a well-known scrap metal business), Rosencrantz excelled in USC's entrepreneurship program. Prior to graduation, he created health and fitness site Fit-Net (http://www.fit-net.com) in his spare time. After pairing his brainchild with his business plan requirement in 1996, he launched his post-grad career.
In its infancy, Fitscape supplemented sales by developing Web sites for clients in the fitness industry. Convincing fitness-related companies that the Internet could be key to getting Spandex-weary folk fit was like persuading them that eating McDonald's three times a day is healthy. But after initial clients like Gold's Gym were convinced, Rosencrantz knew his venture could change lives. Once his ideas began to take shape, jobs for extra income became unnecessary.
Since then, Fitscape's proved that active individuals and Net users aren't mutually exclusive. Besides Fit-Net, where users can get fitness and nutrition information, chat with other users, and shop for products and services, there's also a software division. And at iWell (http://www.iwell.com), users can set and reach their fitness goals (for a fee). The combined sites get more than 1 million hits a month.
"We're not just trying to get people in front of a monitor to look at pictures or read articles--we're trying to get them healthier," says Rosencrantz. Expect Fitscape to grow stronger as well. Currently seeking venture capital, the company's goals are to expand its staff and go public.