- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

Sanjay Patel was never satisfied working eight hours a day for someone else. Now, he's working about 60 hours a week for about 150 companies, growing his own Bethesda Web development firm.

"I'm up at all hours on the Net," he said. "I work longer hours, but I like what I do."

Mr. Patel founded Web First five years ago as businesses started becoming interested in making a mark on the Internet. Companies were looking for a new way to make their operations more efficient and profitable. On-line job training and electronic commerce were in demand.

Jan O'Brien of the National Safety Council said Web First developed her organization's Web site (www.national-safety-council.ie) and opened up e-commerce options to the council.

"They were progressive-thinking enough to have taken care of things we envisioned needing," Ms. O'Brien said.

In 1997, Ms. O'Brien said she did not want to work with large companies because of poor customer service experiences. "[Web First] are not one of the monster companies," she said. "You simply do not get personalized service from these large companies."

The company can design a Web page, maintain it, and develop custom code for custom programs for the Web site.

Less difficult features, such as developing quizzes for the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety Web site (www.aaafts.org) are common.

However, Mr. Patel said he can custom-make software like he did for the Agricultural Research Container Council in the District by developing an invoice tracking system. Mr. Patel and his team of five programmers made it possible for the organization to send invoices over the Internet to be initialed by hundreds of members nationwide.

"[Clients] say 'we have a problem; tell us what to do'," Mr. Patel said. "We really do the guts."

Most clients, he said, are not well versed in technology, but he can help them advance technologically nonetheless.

The company has been getting requests lately for streaming audio and video the ability to transmit sound clips and moving pictures as well as electronic commerce. Mr. Patel said that building relationships has been his most valuable skill and the most invaluable service for his company and his clients.

"We are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing us," he said. Mr. Patel said he chooses his clients carefully, selecting mutually beneficial ones as well as those that are flexible and easy to work with.

"I think we have a lot of standards," he said, laughing that they will consider clients of most industries except pornography.

The company works mostly with nonprofit groups or government agencies. Mr. Patel's clients include the National Safety Council, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education as well as Shimadzu Scientific. "Today the market is flooded," he said. "You have to have an idea that will revolutionize the Web."

Mr. Patel's ideas either pop into his head or are born from a client's need for a particular software or Web application.

For example, Web First designed e-commerce software called ALA-Cart that allows businesses to open their own Web storefront, which can accept credit cards and specify shipping costs.

It is very user-friendly software that allows centers to create the store themselves, Mr. Patel said. He said stores can sell anything from furniture to pet supplies to clothing.

"I think the biggest thing is they have been able to address probably any need that I have had so far and address them immediately," Ms. O'Brien said. "That is the No. 1 name of the game."

Mr. Patel thinks he definitely has a niche in the market and he would like to keep it that way as long as he can without blending into a corporate giant.

"I don't want investors banging on my door asking me for my balance sheet," he said.

Raising capital, he said, is a feat, especially when there is no guarantee the company will go public. So, the future of Web First for the next few years is to continue as an independent firm hoping to grow to about 25 employees.

"The quality of life is very important on the way," Mr. Patel said. "You call us up and you get an answer on the first ring."



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