When Elon Musk C/W95 came up with the idea
of creating interactive classified ads and local entertainment and restaurants
listings on the Web, he struck Internet goldhis Zip2 Corporation
sold for a reported $300 million-plus early this year (see
main story). Only time will tell whether his latest venture, a planned
financial-services Web site called X.com, will be equally successful,
but some other Penn alumniwhile not yet in Musks league among
cyber-mogulshave carved out niches of their own on the Net.
With volumes that
include EKG Pocket Survival Guide, Fluids and Electrolytes:
A Practical Approach; and Mucosal Biopsy of the Gastrointestinal
Tract, one might assume that an online bookstore would be hard-pressed
that hasnt been the case for www.MedBookStore.com,
created by four Penn alumni. They honed in on required reading for thousands
of doctors, nurses and health-professionals-in-training; added a 10 percent
discount and next-business-day delivery; and amassed a loyal customer
base faster than you can say Sphygmomanometer (they sell those,
too). "This is a much faster, cheaper, easier way" of purchasing
medical books, explains Sundeep Bhan C94, the chief executive officer
of Medsite.com Inc. His friends and business partners include Rajnish
Kapoor W93, chief operating officer; Sameer Shariff W93, chief
strategic officer; and Sanjay Pingle W93, chief marketing officer.
texts to time-pressed doctors is just one of the companys ventures
into e-commerce. "I think our long-term strategy is really to be
the physicians home on the Internet," Bhan says. "Were
basically looking at their everyday needs and providing solutions to make
their lives easier, and save time and money." Already they have built
upon their book trade by offering software and medical supplies, launching
a medical-journal tracker to help doctors keep up with the latest news
in their fields, providing an e-scheduling tool and hosting online discussions
to cultivate an interactive medical community.
business itself grew out of an idea Bhan had while taking biology during
his sophomore year at Penn. At the time, he was a pre-med student; he
later switched to business and communications. "I had to write some
papers using Microsoft Word. It kept getting stuck on every medical term.
The thought crossed my mind that somebody should make a medical spell-checker.
Three or four years later, we went out and created the software."
Although Bhan and his friends eventually sold it off to another medical
publisher, their efforts to market the product led to the creation in
1997 of www.medsite.coma medical search engine which reviews other
Web sites and now offers an array of products and services to health professionals.
They have set their sights on a potentially huge international market.
to Bhan, Medsite has more than 200,000 registered users from more than
60 countries; one-fifth of its revenues come from customers outside the
United States. He expects the company to bring in more than $11 million
this year and for its staff of 100 employees (up from 20 less than a year
ago) to double within the next six months. They take up two floors of
an office building at 13th and Broadway, in Manhattans "Silicon
Alley," and are looking for more space. "The beauty of the whole
thing," Bhan says, "is the growth is phenomenal. The excitement
that other, really large online bookseller, Medsite hasnt
turned a profit yet. Bhan, however, emphasizes the importance of company
growth at this stage. "If we wanted to be profitable today, we could
be, but were spending a lot of money on marketing, building our
brand, and it wont be long before we can leverage our existing customer
base to bring new products and new services to them. Right now, its
a land grab."
then Sniff and Sip
Looking for a
hearty Argentinian Malbec for less than $10, a 1995 Bordeaux with chocolate
and currant accents or simply a last-minute birthday gift for Dad? James
Cawley C91, president and founder of Directcellars.com,
hopes youll get on the Web and browse in his store. Cawley gave
up bond trading on Wall Street about a year and a half ago to start the
connoisseurs and novices alike can search the site for wines by color,
varietal, country and price, or simply peruse the latest recommendations
and selection of gift samplers. Wine reviews and a food-and-wine pairing
database provide information that is typically absent from actual wine
you wont find on these virtual shelves, however, are scores of high-priced
"trophy wines" or popular supermarket sellers. "Were
not the Amazon.com of wine," Cawley explains. "We troll the
universe of wineswe have access to 35,000 for next-day deliveryand
we edit them down to a list of 1,000. We go out there looking for cutting-edge
wines." His company employs two "very high-end, exciting sommeliers"
who taste about 150 wines per week.
so many e-commerce businesses popping up in every category, Cawley says,
the biggest challenge is figuring out how to "drive the traffic to
your site and get them to buy." Direct Cellars strategy is
to make wine-buying "an entertainment proposition, as well. We dont
want to be like a state-owned, stodgy wine store. We want to make it a
In this vein, DirectCellars has begun organizing
on-line wine tastings, using Real Audio broadcasts. "People will
be able to pre-buy a sampler of South African reds, and well bring
over a wine maker from one of the [featured] wineries to talk about the
harvest," Cawley explains. "Then well have a tasting where
you can sit with a few friends on a Tuesday evening"
and try the wines. "Were taking the old world of wine and blending
it with the new world of the Internet."
do you convince customers to fill their virtual shopping carts with CDs,
clothing, jewelry and even pet toys? "You need to have value and
convenience combined with the familiarity of a brand consumers feel comfortable
with," says Scott Lenet WG97. "What Internet-commerce
companies need to do is make sure they provide all three things, so shopping
online is superior to shopping in an outlet mall and sifting through bins
or picking up the telephone and calling an 800 number."
and his partner, Peter Bauert, believe they have achieved that winning
combination with their Web site, SmartFrog.com.
Customers sign up for the free service and earn cash-back rewards each
time they make purchases at any of 100 online merchants, ranging from
JCrew to Omaha Steaks and The Disney Store. The rewards, known as "Frog
Dollars," can be redeemed for cash twice a year.
says, "There are many ways to help and reward customers when they
shop online, and were expanding the number of services and stores
dramatically in our new release." The next version of SmartFrog.com
(the site was officially opened in February) is due to be released this
fall. Lenet and Bauert, co-CEOs of the enterprise, based in Austin, Texas,
brainstormed the idea while working for the technology company Trilogy.
"We used to come up with about an idea a week for a business. Generally
its easy to shoot ideas down," Lenet explains. "There
are always a ton of reasons why a business isnt worth pursuing.
But we couldnt shoot this one down."SL