Upstart Start-Ups

Lise Carrigg

Age: 27

Executive producer, Girls on Film

It started as a homework assignment in Echo founder Stacy Horn's class at NYU's ITP: design three pages of a Web site. ''It was two and half years ago, the heyday of the personal Web site,'' recalls Carrigg. ''I just thought it would be a great opportunity to do movie reviews.'' Carrigg completed a makeshift version of girlsonfilm.com, then kept the idea percolating, eventually recruiting three Vassar friends to fill out the site. By last December, the whip-smart school project had become a ''property.'' Content development company Concrete Media purchased the site, now the third most trafficked Web site for women. ''I couldn't believe I was in negotiations,'' says Carrigg, who nevertheless won total creative control. She expects to add TV and video reviews soon. Despite the media attention, the brassy, community-driven site has only five full-time staffers--who, Carrigg says, still operate in the ''start-up world where we're all working on each others' laps.''

McLean Greaves

Age: 31

President--executive producer,

Virtual Melanin Inc.

Though the Net demands a certain disembodiment, Bedford-Stuyvesant--based VMI has survived by marketing a sense of place. Greaves's six-person company made its name with Cafe los Negroes, a two-year-old Web conferencing site for Latinos and blacks that continues to grow even without a marketing budget. From there, VMI first brought Spike Lee's 40 Acres and a Mule to the Web, then HBO's Cyber Soul City and Bad Boy Records. Once it had built the music-label site, VMI switched from being developers to technicians, installing a LAN and Web-cam for the Bad Boy offices because CEO Puffy Combs ''is hardcore about the Net,'' says Greaves. VMI is currently compiling an African American city guide to New York for AOL's Digital City content wing. Despite all the hustle it takes to stay afloat, Greaves has never bothered to look for venture capital because VMI does fine on a shoestring. ''We're smack-dab in the ghetto,'' he says. ''We can't go any further down.''

Omar Wasow

Age: 26

President, New York Online

Wasow knows full well the truth about new media entrepreneurship: you are the brand. From his gig as a spot commentator for MSNBC (just renewed for another year) to his extensive speaking engagements to his portrait in Face Forward: Young African American Men in a Critical Age, Wasow walks the line between being a CEO and being his own product line. ''There is sort of a funny hybrid--growing your company and your own personal shtick,'' says Wasow. The 1992 Stanford grad debuted his own BBS--the Brooklyn-based New York Online--in 1994. But when traffic started to flatten out this year, New York Online deftly made the transition to a bustling Web site development house (the enormous Consumer Reports site it designed is poised to launch in two weeks). With his solo career burgeoning, Wasow is also in talks with investors to develop a network of content sites under the New York Online banner. ''It's good for New York to pretend it has a booming industry,'' says Wasow. ''But until the environment changes--with heavy taxes, regulations, and a crappy public education system--it's going to be a struggle.''

Peter Seidler, Michael Block

Ages: 38, 41

Cofounders, Avalanche

After attempting to design interfaces for bulletin boards in the early '90s, Seidler, joined by Block, christened Avalanche as New York's debut interactive marketing and communications company way back in 1994. Within a year, the company snagged the Super Bowl account (Microsoft's first hosted site), which turned into a benchmark of Net traffic--logging a monster 17 million hits during the halftime. Late last year, when ad consortium Omnicom offered five interactive ad agencies $5 million each for a minority stake, Avalanche declined. ''We felt that we had a distinct culture and we didn't want to mess with that,'' says Seidler. Avalanche has shrewdly wrangled long-term contracts with clients (like Guardian Life Insurance), shoring up its independence into 2000. But like any entrepreneur, Seidler will entertain all options. ''We aren't looking for outside investors,'' he says, ''but we haven't closed the doors.''

Theresa Duncan

Age: 27

CD-ROM producer

First it was two girls' desultory exploration of their hometown (Chop Suey). Then, a smart-aleck young girl's summer misadventures (Smarty). Her third project? Parisian rooftops at the turn of the century, seen through a girl's eyes (00). For three years, Duncan--a writer, producer, designer, marketer, and sound designer--has waged a one-woman crusade to hand the CD-ROM industry back its dignity. Her first disc won Entertainment Weekly's CD-ROM of the Year Award, and her third title was largely considered the saving grace of the junk-game carnival E3 back in May. Compared to the rest of the market, Duncan's discs--illustrated by her boyfriend Jeremy Blake--are the work of an auteur: quirky, elaborate, and attentive to minute details. ''Publishers are timid, shortsighted, spend too much money, and won't take any chances,'' chides Duncan. When the market went bust last year and she couldn't find a distributor for her second title, Duncan took matters into her own hands and badgered F.A.O. Schwarz and the Virgin Megastore over the phone until they gave her shelf space. She made another cold call asking David Sedaris to narrate Chop Suey (he happily agreed). For the time being, she's nested among the developers at Nicholson NY, which is paying to produce 00. Her next project is already in the works--''one for older girls about a paranoid fashion model,'' says Duncan, ''a faux girlhood memorial.''

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