Great Companies Started for $1,000 or Less

COMPANY: Multimedia Live
BUSINESS: E-commerce Web design
1999 REVENUES: $10 million
2000 PROJECTED REVENUES: $25 million

Ken Burke desperately wanted to rent a booth at a national Internet trade show in October 1995. Burke, then 29 and almost two years out of business school, had shelled out $500 in February 1995 for office rent and supplies to set himself up as a Web-design company in Petaluma, Calif. Internet businesses were starting to boom, and Burke wanted in. But to spend $3,000 for a booth at the Online Expo in Los Angeles would have been a stretch.

"We were just looking for any way, anything to get a break," Burke says. He was then running newspaper ads at $30 a pop to find customers, and he had signed up three salespeople who were willing to work for commissions only. But he had attracted only a few customers. Burke had to take consulting jobs on the side while he accepted Web-design jobs for as little as $300 to build a portfolio.

So he wangled a deal from the promoters to get into the Online Expo. In exchange for a booth, he was to give seminars about the Internet during the trade show. That was no problem for Burke, a guy who loves to talk and a Webaholic since his college days. The show was packed, and Burke spent a manic three days repeating to all comers a 15-minute speech about the Internet's potential. "Really, you couldn't buy that kind of exposure," he says.

At the show he snagged his first important customer, Guthy-Renker Corp., an infomercial-marketing company with a fledgling Internet division. It was a plum assignment. Not only would Burke lead seminars about the Internet for Guthy-Renker's small-business customers but he would build the customers' Web sites for Guthy-Renker's online mall. Much to his delight, Burke suddenly had a substantial, steady cash flow. That enabled him to buy computers and hire his first full-time employees. Within six months he had 20 people on his payroll.

Last year, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., a printing company based in Chicago, invested $3.4 million in Multimedia Live. Since then Burke has added 25 more programmers to his workforce, which now totals 130.

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