Great Companies Started for $1,000 or Less

BUSINESS: Ticket brokerage
1999 REVENUES: $8 million
2000 PROJECTED REVENUES: $10 million

Mike Domek's isn't located in Silicon Valley. Nor has it ever received a dime of venture capital. But it's very much in the thick of the E-commerce revolution. It sells thousands of tickets online every month, and it expects to rack up $10 million worth of sales this year.

Domek has come a long way in nine years. Growing up in Woodstock, Ill., he was the kid in his high school who always knew which bands were coming to town and somehow could score tickets for even the hottest acts. At Southern Illinois University he kept up a sideline selling tickets to friends and customers in the Chicago area. Then, in 1991, after three years of college, Domek, then 22, ran out of money for school, dropped out, moved back home, and decided to try ticket brokering full-time.

Lucky for Domek, he didn't require much in the way of inventory to start, which is formally known as VIP Tour Co. All he really needed was a phone, a credit-card-processing machine, and a FedEx account. "I'd just let people know that I could get tickets for this or that," he says. "Then I would just call around." Once he was established as a repeat customer, other ticket brokers gave him a discount. "That gave me the ability to be competitive for what they were selling. Eventually, I stocked more inventory of my own."

With an initial investment of $100, Domek bought office supplies. He ran ads in local newspapers and paid for them with credit cards. He put in an extra phone line and worked out of his one-bedroom apartment for the first 18 months. "The big move was into a two-bedroom apartment, where I could make one of the rooms into an office," he says. "At that point a lot of my friends were finishing college. A few of them helped out part-time while they were looking for jobs."

As the company has grown -- almost all of it financed internally except for $100,000 borrowed in 1995 to reserve tickets for the 1996 Olympics -- it has improved its phone system, expanded its office space, and added new computers and a Web site, Domek says. Putting up the Web site last year cost $30,000, plus $14,000 for the domain name. His payroll has swelled from 7 employees to 21, and annual marketing -- including advertising and affiliations -- will cost him $1 million by the end of 2000, Domek estimates. In 1999 he barely broke even.

But Domek is sure his bet on the Web will pay off. Already he sells 65% of his tickets over the Web. The site, which includes information about venues and upcoming events -- say, 'N Sync or Bruce Springsteen concerts or Chicago Cubs games -- gets 5,500 hits a day. Domek takes pride in having made it to the Web without massive infusions of venture capital. "I like to control the pace of growth," he says.

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