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SiliconValley.com - Mike Cassidy: High-schoolers fit a start-up into their schedule (10/01/2000)






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Posted at 10:21 p.m. PDT Sunday, October 1, 2000

Mike Cassidy: High-schoolers fit a start-up into their schedule

BY MIKE CASSIDY
Mercury News

You know that new Alliance for Childhood report that says computers might do kids more harm than good?

Robert Chin and Chris Kung haven't read it. The Los Altos High School students have been too busy. Yes, there's schoolwork and track and Scouting.

And there's their year-old start-up, a company that hosts game-related Web sites.

``We just started making a profit,'' said Robert, 17.

That puts GameShadow Networks ahead of most of the dot-com sector.

No, it's not a huge profit, and it's not a huge operation. World headquarters is Robert's living room. Three glowing monitors, a laptop, CPUs stashed under a desk.

``I call this the radiation center,'' said Chris, 16.

The guts of the operation are down below. The server storing GameShadow Web pages sits in a small basement back room -- gives a whole new meaning to ``storage room.''

This is serious business, which is clear when you talk to Robert and Chris. The two run down their business model: They host game enthusiasts' Web sites for free. The sites offer tips, downloads that enhance existing games and tools for Web site builders. Then, they sell space on those sites to advertisers who want to pitch products to the computer game-playing demographic.

It's the way it works around here. If you're going to retire at 30, you need to get cracking. Computers are just a tool, a tool to build a career and maybe a fortune.

Robert, wearing a ``Will Work for Bandwidth'' T-shirt, sounds like the seasoned Silicon Valley CEO. He explains that GameShadow strives to provide Web developers support that competing sites don't. He says its secret sauce is the chat rooms where those building Web sites can trade ideas, frustrations and dreams.

``We try to build a community between the people we host,'' he said, ``because we figure if you're part of the community, you don't want to leave.''

He takes questions about going public seriously, not that he has any such plans. GameShadow is making money, he said, and as long as you're making money, ``it's nice to have it privately owned so you keep control.''

Robert and Chris were shrewd enough to persuade a veteran venture capitalist to lend them start-up money. OK, the venture capitalist was Robert's dad.

``He said, `Why don't you write a business plan?' '' Robert recalled. ``My dad's a pretty thorough guy.''

The loan from Robert's parents, along with the $5,000 their son invested from gains in the stock market, was enough to buy the server, with change left over. Already, Robert the younger knows timing is everything.

``I actually got him to say yes when we were on vacation,'' he said of closing the deal during a 1999 spring break trip to Europe.

All that summer, Robert and Chris wrote code and built the site. They launched in August 1999.

``We didn't want to start while school was in,'' Robert said, ``because we knew we had finals and stuff.''

Now they host about 20 main sites. They can run the business by working a few hours here and there. It gives them the time to pursue other interests, like Robert's summer job writing software for a wireless networking company and Chris's summer advance placement classes.

Next year, it's college. (Chris is thinking Stanford, UC-Berkeley. Robert is considering the University of Illinois, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon.) The boys are confident they can keep the company running when they head to college next year.

And sitting in the radiation center, it's not hard to believe they can.


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