Company: Metro Services Group Inc.
Founded: 1987
Start-Up Capital: $900

Creating a company from nothing isn't so hard, according to Jeremy Barbera. He says it's really just a question of positioning. "If you don't position your company as successful, no one on the receiving end is going to assume it is."

Barbera started his direct-marketing company, Metro Services Group, with just $900 in personal savings. Though he worked at his living room table, "the best thing I ever did," he says, was to rent a Madison Avenue address for $200 a month through a business incubator. Barbera knew that the clients he wanted, large financial-services firms, "needed to at least think that we were a 'we."

From the start, Barbera aimed for major-league clientele. But how do you get the attention of American Express? "You have to be a little arrogant and say that you're capable of doing something that someone else isn't," he says. "Otherwise, there's no reason for them to take a chance." His company, Barbera explained, had skills American Express lacked. "I said, 'We'll get you more new clients than your staff can. We'll deliver a client to you next week. And if you don't believe me, you can pay us on contingency." Barbera made good on his cheeky promise. Right on schedule, he handed over the New York City Ballet, which American Express had courted fruitlessly for 15 years. American Express put Metro Services on retainer, unknowingly becoming its first client.

Barbera played elaborate charades to maintain Metro's bigger-than-we-really-are facade. On a typical day, he would phone a client to discuss a proposal, pledging that when his secretary finished typing it, he'd have it delivered -- before 5 p.m. Hanging up, he'd rush to his word processor and type. Document done, he'd change into sweats and sneakers, climb onto his bike, and deliver the proposal. "I was CEO at 2 p.m., secretary at 3:30 p.m., and messenger at 4:30 p.m."

This article was adapted from material that first appeared in Inc. magazine in August 1995.