Making It

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By Margaret Webb Pressler
Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ian Landy and Kim AuBuchon made a bundle starting and selling a telephone technology company in the late 1990s, then went their separate ways. Ian began investing in other ventures. Kim, a mother of two teenagers, decided to try the soccer mom routine.

"All the things I thought I was going to do -- garden and make great dinners -- I didn't really think were fun," Kim says, a little sheepishly. One day in 2004, her friend Ian called. He had an idea for another company. Kim was in.

The venture they started, Sterling-based Excitations, sells experiential gifts to people who want to give someone something other than a tie or a crystal bowl. By identifying and contracting with area enterprises, Excitations puts together packages that offer balloon rides, wine tastings, polo lessons, race-car driving and so on. It has grown far more slowly than the technology ventures the pair was involved in before. But it will have revenue this year in the "seven figures," Ian says, and next year will crack "eight figures" and become profitable.

Kim, an adventurous vacationer who likes scuba diving and volcano climbing, and Ian, a recreational race-car driver and father of three young children, are enthralled with this venture.

"I've never sold a piece of technology to someone and put a smile on their face," Ian says. But selling technology is easier than selling fun, they acknowledge.

Ian, 43, was born and raised in Britain in a middle-class family but always wanted to come to America because "you can achieve more in the U.S.," he says. He took a job with Cable & Wireless because the London-based communications company would send him to the States.

Ian worked his way up the corporate ladder and hired Kim, a marketing specialist, away from AT&T. But both of them were growing weary of the paper-pushing, bureaucratic corporate culture. Eager to break out, the pair left Cable & Wireless in 1995 to start Lightspeed International, which designed software that allowed different phone networks to interface. After two years, they sold the business to Cisco Systems for almost $200 million in stock, worked for Cisco for a few years and then left.

Ian wanted to start another company and thought of Excitations after seeing a similar venture do well in Britain.

It's a tougher concept here because the United States is so big, and the gifts have to be convenient and local. So Excitations has developed independent markets, starting with the Washington area, then last year expanding into New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco. This year, the company has added Boston, Los Angeles and Atlanta, and plans four more by year's end. "There are great and fun things to do in your back yard that you don't even know about," says Kim, 47. "We find them."

Their biggest challenge remains marketing their product to consumers. "Creating the awareness is shocking to me -- how much you have to spend," Ian says. "And you have to have the stomach to keep spending."

Have you had success in moving from essentials to entertainment? E-mail changb@washpost.com.


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