- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

Small businesses seldom have the same leverage as larger ones when it comes to purchasing industrial supplies. Now one Sterling, Va. start-up wants to give small companies some equal footing.
The new company, called EqualFooting.com, provides a virtual place where small businesses and suppliers of industrial and construction products can meet and conduct business on line. It offers equipment financing, credit lines and loans.
"The name … hence the mission of the company, which is to put small businesses on equal footing with large corporations," said Angie Kim, president and chief customer officer.
Like many business-to-business electronic commerce start-ups, EqualFooting is growing quickly. The company started in January with just four employees including the three founders and now employs 125.
The difference between how small and large companies purchase industrial supplies is like night and day. Large companies have their own purchasing departments entire divisions with staffers calling around for best prices.
Small businesses simply don't have that kind of resources, Mrs. Kim said. So the task of price shopping is left to an executive or secretary.
"Our ideal goal for 10 years from now is to provide a wide range of services that help to make small businesses' lives easier … that can be immensely valuable," Mrs. Kim said.
The founders Mrs. Kim, Aaron Martin and Jim Fox met while working at McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm that helps companies use the Internet. From there, the three decided to start their own business.
Mr. Martin, chief financial and business development officer, and Mr. Fox, chief executive officer, moved from Pennsylvania to Northern Virginia to start EqualFooting.
When Mrs. Kim was 13, she moved with her parents from Seoul to Baltimore. During her teen-age years, she often worked at her parents' small grocery store.
"That was one of my first experiences with small business … I experienced firsthand what it's like to be a small business," said Mrs. Kim, now 30.
Mrs. Kim earned a law degree from Harvard University and spent four years as an associate at a D.C. law firm. Her parents were not thrilled when she decided to leave law and join McKinsey.
But soon her parents realized Mrs. Kim had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, so they happily provided financial assistance to start EqualFooting.
In June, the three founders began working from the basement of Mrs. Kim's home in Great Falls. Two months later they had raised about $1 million from friends and family and were ready to expand.
"In September we moved out of the basement, which was a good thing for my husband, especially, and my (two) cats," Mrs. Kim said.
By the end of 1999, the company had finished its first round of financing and had $8.5 million, mostly from venture capitalists New Enterprise Associates and FBR Technology Ventures.
EqualFooting hired its first employee, Michelle Crames, that summer as an intern. She was going to Stanford University in the fall to study for a master's degree in business administration. The founders were so happy with her that they persuaded her to stay. She is now the vice president of on-line alliances.
EqualFooting's income comes from a 5 percent commission it charges suppliers for each business transaction. Shipping costs are covered by the buyer, except with some purchases above $400.

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