Name and age: Thomas Leavitt, 28; and Chris Yeh, 26
Starting point: $1 million in start-up capital from the sale of Leavitt's former business and $150,000 from friends and family in June 1999
2000 sales projections: $4 million
The story: Former high school classmates Leavitt and Yeh rushed to get ClickRebates up and running during the summer of 1999 before Yeh had to return to Harvard in the fall to finish his MBA. The two saw an opportunity in the emerging field of consumer-to-business e-commerce and developed programs that allow advertisers and e-commerce partners to participate in one-to-one marketing to groups of interested consumers. ClickRebates makes money from advertisers as well as on commissions from transactions initiated through its service; the majority of what the advertisers pay is passed along to consumers.
Beyond business: Leavitt and Yeh believe in both personal and corporate social responsibility and in giving back to their communities. But they wanted to do more than just give what they and their start-up operation could afford. "Nonprofit organizations are looking for a way to attract younger, more wired audiences," Yeh says. "We thought we could help them get connected with people who may not necessarily have a lot of money to donate but who want to feel like they're contributing to a good cause." So they formed ClickDonate, which works in much the same way as other ClickRebate programs, except that consumers donate all or a portion of what they earn while surfing the Web to a designated charity of their choice.
Pulled by the customers: Leavitt and Yeh knew they had a good idea and expected consumers to like it, but they've been surprised by the tremendous feedback and assistance they've received from users. "I'm constantly amazed by the enthusiasm and intelligence of people on the Web who have been using our products," Yeh says. "They think about the products, they give us great suggestions-many of which we end up adopting-and they love us for it. They're the ones doing the hard work to tell us what sort of other products we should bring out and what other things we should be doing to better serve them. Our customers have been fantastic in giving of their time and of themselves to help us."
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.