The Minds Behind the Madness

What inspires someone to sacrifice sleep, sanity and free time to start a dot-com company? Usually, they'll see an unmet need and find a way to meet it. Find out more about a few of the minds behind the madness -- those who dreamed up solutions and...


Baier's future plans include investigating international opportunities for PurchasingCenter.com, possibly early next year, as their focus to date has been on the U.S. market.

Domestically or internationally, Baier's main focus will continue to be determining and serving the needs of MRO buyers. "The things purchasers like about our site are the standing shopping baskets where they can identify frequently purchased items. They also like the approval and group accounts features," Baier says. "They can push purchasing off to other people in their companies and monitor it. They can get detailed reports by cost center on what's being purchased."

This enables MRO purchasers to focus on more valuable areas than routine buys. Baier mentions a purchaser that orders 20 percent to 30 percent of his company's needed products on PurchasingCenter.com, saving him 10 to 15 hours a week to work on other projects. "Our site gets rid of that endless cycle of phone and fax tag," Baier says. "We help them get the job done."

Overall, Baier expects dot-com startups to continue with the same frenzy over the next few years. "There is still a tremendous amount of capital out there," he says. "Lots of people are looking to start ideas and are getting tremendous returns. There's a huge velocity of innovation and change, which means more automation, more new products and more new companies. The treadmill doesn't slow down at all."

While heading PurchasingCenter.com does take valuable time away from his family, Baier says he can't imagine running a dot-com without having a family. "No matter how hard a day I've had, when my precious little daughter runs into my arms yelling "Daddy!" I get rejuvenated. It's wonderfully therapeutic. It forces me to keep things in perspective."

It’s More than a Meat Market: FoodUSA.com
FoodUSA.com Rodney's Great Adventure

"It's not exactly a hotbed of dot-coms here," Heller says. "The culture is very conservative and traditional." That hasn't limited Heller or FoodUSA.com. In June, the online meat and poultry exchange announced that it had achieved $10 million in closed transactions only 46 days after its launch.

Self-employed for several years of his career, Heller had been a food broker of canned and frozen vegetables. "I kept getting hit by industry consolidation," he says. "Customers and suppliers were being swallowed up and I was losing accounts. I knew that if I wanted to stay self-employed I would have to do something radical. I like to be in control of my own destiny." Heller tried to launch an online vegetable exchange in mid-1996, but found that he was a little ahead of himself and that it was too early for the industry to be thinking about online commerce.

"Back in 1996 and 1997, when I first came up with the idea to take supply chains on the Web, everyone thought I was nuts," Heller says. "It was horrible. It's pretty humiliating to take a five-hour flight home with your tail between your legs. But many of the companies that showed me the door then are the companies making the biggest deals today."

Heller kept refining his ideas and one of his early backers, a poultry distributor, suggested he consider an online meat exchange. In December 1998, Heller started his research. "I had never sold an ounce of meat in my life but I knew enough to be dangerous. Once I focused myself, things were easy."

He knew, for example, a huge market exists for chicken breasts but not for the rest of the chicken. Other parts are frequently sold on the spot market, about a $100-billion market. Heller secured venture capital and then began to hire experts in the meat industry before launching the site in April.

While Heller's site deals with meat only, other exchanges spread themselves out among meat, fish and other products. FoodUSA.com must be doing something right: While Heller says they have a ways to go, his company is on track to have 0.1 percent of the market as of late June. And Forbes magazine named FoodUSA.com as one of the 10 best agricultural e-commerce sites.

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