- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

15 minutes with … Andrew Lufburrow

A young person heading a technology start-up in this area is certainly not a rarity. But when that young person is more than a year shy of legal drinking age, it's tough not to notice, even if one's interest is based on a desire to see if he or she makes a big rookie mistake.

But it's so far so good for Andrew Lufburrow, the 19-year-old chief executive of Digimo, a Baltimore company that uses students to act as an outsourcing firm for companies looking for inexpensive Web solutions. Subsidized in part by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as part of its technology incubator program, Digimo just celebrated its first anniversary, and has its eyes set on expansion. Its clients currently include big companies like Comcast Corp., as well as mom-and-pop operations like the UMBC women's soccer team and Baltimore Area Boy Scout Council.

Presently, all of Digimo's employees are students at UMBC or the University of Maryland at College Park. Mr. Lufburrow himself is taking a full course load at UMBC in pursuit of a computer science and economics degree, while still spending 60-70 hours a week working at Digimo.

The Washington Times caught up with Mr. Lufburrow at the UMBC Technology Center, where Digimo is housed. He looks a bit older than 19, is friendly and energetic and more than forgiving to a tardy reporter who was given bad directions.

Question: What does Digimo do, exactly?

Answer: We're a company that uses students to provide a cost-effective outsourcing solution to information technology consulting firms, and some select end users.

Q: So in other words, a company has, say, a Web project it needs to get done. If they want to get it done inexpensively, they could give it to you. The students work on it … in a way it's sort of like slave labor isn't it?

A: I wouldn't call it slave labor, because there's opportunities here to grow, learn, expand and as we form more partnerships there's other opportunities not only in interactive design but in maybe in wireless in the future, maybe optical or something or other in the future. Because we're using a student work force. Right now we're concentrated on using UMBC students because of our location. So we leverage our location to maximize the students' busy schedule because of school and work.

Q: And then you're also providing them with the experience they need if they want to get a job one day?

A: That's right. We take freshmen, and we cultivate them, we work around their schedule and we help them with their school work. But also it's a professional education, so that by the time they're seniors, they are that much further along in the game.

Q: So who's taking advantage of this? Is it mostly UMBC students now or do you have students from other schools?

A: We have a breakdown of about nine UMBC students and two from College Park. So, the idea is to template this, get the footprint down and open up other university markets and hopefully open up a College Park office in the near future.

Q: Do you have any type of timeline as to when that's going to happen?

A: Hopefully in the next three months. I mean, our space is so simple to run. All we need are computers, and Internet connection, some chairs and people. So we don't need anything great.

Q: What's your ultimate goal in terms of expansion?

A: It will always be headquartered near UMBC, just because it was my brainchild, and I've got that pride to the alma mater. So, it will always be here but there'll be different factory offices or production arms, hopefully around the East Coast and around the country.

Q: Do you see any specific colleges doing a good job in breeding computer science people or people interested in what you're doing?

A: You're always going to have those extreme students that are just brilliant, wonderful, great. But, a majority of the students lack the practical application coming out of school that the commercial side of things needs. I mean, that's why we have a technology shortage in the first place.

On average, it takes about $85,000 for a company to ramp up a new employee to the point where that employee is making money for them. So it's a salary and $85,000, and it's over a couple of years of training, classes, inefficiency spent on the job. All those things culminate in this big expense to get the employee ready to go. So it's the whole acclimation and adjusting period. And what we do is we do that incrementally over the course of their college career. Students are front-lined, they're the guys doing the code, the design, thinking through the projects, the problems from very early age, so that we can really affect the problem-solving techniques down the road. We start that creative process, that technical process, early.

Q: Now, you're only 19. Do you see that as an advantage or a disadvantage?

A: You have to surround yourself with good people. That's the number one thing, especially when you're young. A lot of young technology executives have hard heads. I know quite a few of them, and they don't understand that you can't do everything, and you have to be able to pool your resources. There's definitely areas that I don't know a lot about. An intelligent executive surrounds himself with good people to pool his resources together and get work he can't do done. Or to get advice.

My network consists of various successful people in Baltimore that have been in business for a long while, that I can go to and say, "Hey guys I'm having problems doing this. How did you guys do it?" And that gives you credibility, not only with your investors, but with your own network around Baltimore. "You know what, he does ask questions, he is coachable. He listens." Those are all very important things.

Q: Do you think you have an advantage over older people on the technology end?

A: For familiarity with the actual technical process, or programming or what a computer can do, sure. But even then, we're ultra-limited in knowing what really happens and the "magic behind what we see every day." Even as a young student, you know you can program and you know how to program. But how is Photoshop really put together? I don't know. So there's so much more that's out there that was the brainchild of an older person. So, where there might be some type of digital age divide, maybe they're not too far gone as we think. I know plenty of seniors that have started companies after retirement. Business wisdom, business sense and common sense can be reused. Technology is more of what your end result is, what your process is. Business still encloses in that.

Q: So you still feel that no matter what you're doing, the business side of things doesn't change?

A: Absolutely. Numbers, figures, the plan, the methodology all need to be in place. The technology comes along with that. For instance, every company has a vision. Just because you can make a really cool widget, doesn't mean you know how to market it. There are so many components that need to go into that.

Q: Where does Digimo stand now in terms of funding?

A: We're backed by the Abell Foundation (a Baltimore group that makes grants exclusively to Maryland-based organizations). We're working to close our first round of funding, in the amount that I cannot disclose right now. But, we are actively seeking venture funding.

Q: Will the first round result in the amount of funding you were hoping for?

A: Well, because we haven't closed the first round yet, I don't know. But I'm sure it will be good.

Q: Do you have any direct competitors? Is there another company that does what you do?

A: Sure, we have direct competitors. Our direct competitors are our clients, who take kids out of school as well and use them as interns. Those are our direct competitors. We have an advantage over our direct competitors because we leverage our age. Would you rather work for a suit- and-tie company, or come in and work with your friends? Party with them, go to school with them. You see them in class, you see them at work. You commiserate over common things. You're not walking into a place you feel foreign in. And you're right next to school. So you can run back to those classes and run back to the office and still make money.

Q: Are you making more money than you ever thought you would at this stage in your life?

A: I can't say I'm making more money now because a lot of it's invested in the company. So, I take serious risks financially. I'm sure it will come later down the road. But right now, everything's invested in the company. Everything.

Q: What do your parents think of all this?

A: My parents are my biggest cheerleaders. So they give all the emotional support they can. It's stressful, especially when you're taking a full course load at school. You have a lot of stress to perform, both to graduate and be successful in the company. So there's a lot of pressure to perform here. Parents just want to make sure you're doing OK.

SELF-PORTRAIT

Andrew Lufburrow, President and CEO of Digimo, a Baltimore Internet start-up subsidized in part by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Age: 19

Education: Currently on track to earn a degree in computer science and economics from UMBC. 1998 graduate of C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air.

Hobbies: Reading, listening to jazz.

Last book read: "Gods and Generals," by Jeff M. Shaara.

Favorite Web page: "My own, of course."

How to contact me: alufburrow@digimo.com or 410/455-5626



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