- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

CEO juggles operating two other start-ups

At 30, Tom Cunningham has achieved just about everything he wanted in life. The chief executive officer of Alabanza, a Baltimore provider of Web hosting software, and two other companies, is happily married and living well.
Yet five years ago, Mr. Cunningham never would have guessed that what started as a means of secondary income would bloom into an umbrella company housed in three floors of a downtown high-rise building.
"I wanted something I could do at home," he said, saying he never planned to own a business.
His primary interest was in teaching via computers, a job he held at a high school in Belize for two years in the early 1990s.
"It was over the summer, and I had nothing to do, and I knew some computer program development, so I developed it," he said. "It was the coolest thing in the world, and I thought I was the only one to think of it."
When Mr. Cunningham returned to the States, he found out the University of Maryland offered a master's program in his field of interest. He enrolled, and shortly after that, he started Alabanza.
He invested his savings of $15,000, and along with his wife, whom he met while in Belize, worked out of his bedroom on multimedia with CD-ROMs Alabanza's original function.
That was March 1995.
Two years later, Mr. Cunningham hired his first employee, and Alabanza evolved into a company that clients come to when they want to learn how do develop and host Web sites.
By the end of last year, Mr. Cunningham employed about 115 persons between three companies, with Alabanza having the highest number, 85.
Alabanza's income has growth immensely: about $50,000 came in 1995 and last year its income was more than $2 million. Mr. Cunningham expects that number to at least quadruple this year.
When Alabanza started growing quickly in 1997, Mr. Cunningham realized what a great opportunity this was. In August, he started HostingVentures.com, an on-line venture capitalist company that funds start-up Internet companies.
Four months later he started BulkRegister.com, an Internet company that registers domain names in large quantities with a discount.
For a start-up firm that needs help structuring, a company like Alabanza can be useful, said Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications Inc., which follows Internet, media and telecommunications companies.
"There is very likely going to be a niche," he said. "Especially for those who are just getting in the industry early arrivals who have had to struggle to put it all together themselves."
Mr. Cunningham realizes how well his business has done.
"Everything is very comfortable right now," he said and then joked, "I could drop dead tomorrow and this thing would cruise on smoothly."
On a usual day, Mr. Cunningham said he wakes up around 5 a.m., and for about two hours he responds to e-mails, mostly from employees. He then spends his actual business hours going between offices of the three companies, which are all housed in the same building in downtown Baltimore. Before going to sleep at night, Mr. Cunningham spends a few more hours reading and writing e-mails.
A native of Baltimore, Mr. Cunningham is the first in his family to work in the computer field. He said jokingly that he is trying to convince his sister who attends Georgetown University's medical school to become Alabanza's office doctor.
Income from BulkRegister.com and HostingVentures.com is very complementary to Alabanza's. Mr. Cunningham projects this year's revenues to be $24 million and $6 million, respectively.
Although not located in the Silicon Alley, as industry insiders refer to the Northern Virginia high-tech corridor, Alabanza and other tech companies in Baltimore have chosen a good location, according to Richard Clinch, an economist with the University of Baltimore.
"Large amounts of venture capital are being invested in the region," he said. "And there is a lot of investment in the high-tech infrastructure."
Happy with his companies' location, Mr. Cunningham's main concern right now is to focus. "We had to focus to build three strong, independent teams," he said. "Also it's easier if we want to do acquisitions, mergers, or IPOs."
As CEO of three companies, Mr. Cunningham has little time for hobbies. His free time is spent with his pregnant wife and their three young children.
"I'm having fun doing both," he said, referring to his work and family. "It's a multigrowth strategy."


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