Upstarts

COMPANY: Nimantics Inc.

HEADQUARTERS: Tustin, Calif.

TYPE OF BUSINESS: High-end laptops sold by mail order

FOUNDER: Nimesh Desai

KEY COMPETITION: Dell Computer, Gateway 2000, Micron Technology

COMPETITIVE STRATEGY: Serve profitable niche by introducing cutting-edge features first

Like a lot of other laptops, the computers sold by Nimantics contain Toshiba hard drives, Pentium chips, and NEC screens. But what's most proprietary about them isn't inside the machines; it's within the skull of founder Nimesh Desai: his brain. "I have a very deep understanding of electronics and can identify long-term technological developments and see how they're going to translate into new products," says the 27-year-old. "I think I'm smarter than [Dell Computer Corp. founder] Michael Dell."

Who's to say he isn't? Desai claims an IQ of 168. But the connection between gray matter and greenbacks isn't obvious. More concretely, Dell has a cushion of nearly $8 billion in company revenues, compared with Nimantics' projected sales of $26 million this year. Still, by focusing on power users, Desai has established his two-year-old business as a respected newcomer. Last year the company posted sales of $3.6 million, with an operating profit of $180,000. "They come out with really interesting stuff," says Bryan Del Rizzo, news editor at Boot magazine, a monthly for PC aficionados.

In a market about as crowded--and well mannered--as an L.A. freeway, Nimantics has distinguished itself by introducing advanced features before most others do. It was one of the first notebook companies to install an internal CD-ROM drive and the MMX Pentium processor, which boosts the performance of multimedia applications. Desai keeps abreast of technological change by poring over academic journals, which, he boasts, "I can understand because of my background." He earned an advanced degree in electrical engineering at UCLA in 1992, after which he started building PCs for his friends. In mid-1995 he earned $800 for building his first laptop. "I said to myself, 'That's it. Notebooks are my life,' " he recalls.

But Desai's epiphany is no guarantee of success. "There have been dozens of hot starts in the business that have ultimately burned out," warns Seymour Merrin, publisher of ChannelMarker, a high-tech newsletter. To make sure he's giving customers what they want, Desai personally calls potential customers who contact Nimantics but buy elsewhere. After hearing complaints about one Nimantics model, he made the next one nearly one and a half pounds lighter. "He's constantly listening," says Ed Brown, publisher of Laptop Buyer's Guide & Handbook.

Desai does plenty of talking, too. He spends up to one week a month meeting with computer magazine editors in New York City and San Francisco, aiming to get his products reviewed. Their positive assessments, in addition to the nearly $2 million the company plans to spend this year on advertising and marketing, represent his best shot at building a brand name in a market with no shortage of them.

"When we reach $100 million, we will get attacked by big and small companies alike," he predicts. If that happens, Desai knows what he'll do: boot up that high-powered brain of his. "I was raised to believe I could do anything," he says. "I think I'm proving I can."


Resources

NIMANTICS, Nimesh Desai, 2913 El Camino Real, #411, Tustin, CA 92782; 714-440-8160 19