Four years ago, Eric Bulock intended to go to a business conference in Europe and needed a passport in a hurry. After frantic efforts to get one, Bulock's boss canceled the trip. "I was bummed I didn't go to Europe," recalls Bulock, now 34, "but I looked at the positive side. The process was so difficult, I thought there might be a business opportunity there."
Bulock was convinced he could use the Web to help travelers, although the Internet was still in its formative stages in 1996. Investing less than $1,000, he launched Passport Express Services Inc. in Providence, Rhode Island, aka PassportExpress.com, an automated way for travelers to obtain or renew passports in as little as 24 hours-a far cry from the usual six to eight weeks.
Travelers log on to the Passport Express site for details about the process, then they contact a toll-free information center, where they are given information about the documents they need to submit. Travelers print those documents and take them to a post office or district courthouse, where they are reviewed and shipped to Passport Express. Couriers pick up the documents and deliver them to the passport agency, a pick-up time is given, and the courier ships them back overnight.
Bulock, who employs six and charges $75 to $150 for the passport service, estimates 2000 sales at just under $1 million. In the future, Bulock hopes to partner with corporate travel departments and travel portals to broaden his business' scope.
Pamela Rohland, a writer in Bernville, Pennsylvania, is anxiously awaiting the development of a freelance writer doll.