Think of Dale Graham's idea as the joining of one of the oldest tools in the Americas with one of the newest.
On her Virginia farm, Graham raises llamas, which were domesticated 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in South America and in recent years have become popular in the United States as pack animals, pets and wool producers.
Graham is also a computer database builder for the National Institutes of Health. So she teamed up with two other Virginia ranchers to auction 40 llamas over the Internet.
Graham and her husband, owners of the Llamarada farm in Rixeyville, have been breeding the animals for 15 years. Selling llamas usually involves word of mouth or print advertising. The auctions seemed like a good experiment because Graham already was in cyberspace with Llamaweb.com, one of the first online sources about all things llama, which she launched in 1995.
The llamas available for auction during October (at http://camelid.webis.net/
leaves/) range in price from $300 to $8,000 for a pair of special mini-llamas. Besides the llamas, there are a few other items for sale: three cashmere goats, as well as items made from llama fiber, such as yarn, hats and socks.
Graham built the auction database with a feature she calls the "llama shopper," which lets people search for an animal by a number of factors, including personality and gender. Of course there are lots of pictures of the cute creatures. And she offers "mini-herd" discounts for people who buy a group of llamas, because, she says, llamas are much happier living in a herd than alone.
So far, demand has been disappointing. While many people have visited the site this month and asked for more information, the first sale is still to come. "It's really crushing," she says.
Running the auction, she has also learned a bit about the dark side of the Internet. She discovered that someone in her community who had been accused of writing bad checks had made bids on the llamas. So Graham deleted bids from that person and even cooperated with law enforcement officials.
The other farms participating in the auction are Little Bit O' Heaven Llamas of Spotsylvania and Persimmon Hill Llamas of Luray.
Graham says a livestock auction is more difficult than most of those on other auction sites, like eBay. If you search under "llama" on eBay, you mainly turn up llama statues and pins.
"When you have a big live critter, you have different issues," says Graham, such as transportation, veterinary care and, well, space.
Ari Jacoby is the latest local chief executive to step down for the greater good of the company.
It's a common practice at start-up technology companies for the founders--often technologists or entrepreneurs but not experienced managers--to move aside.
Jacoby will become executive vice president of strategy at Newsletters.com, a privately held, online clearinghouse for newsletters. And Jeff Ronaldi, former director of global sales at MCI WorldCom's UUNet division, will take the top role. The Ronaldi connection is through Jeff Osborn, one of Newsletters.com's early angel funders and a cashed-out multimillionaire from . . . UUNet.
"We need more traction," says Jacoby. Does it hurt to give up the top-dog role at the company he founded? He sighs. "It's not about titles, it's about moving as fast as possible and winning."
There's been Netplex, Mid-Atlantech, Silicon Dominion and Beltway Bandwidth.
But when it comes to the local tech community's perennial pastime--trying to name the region--nothing seems to stick.
The latest contender: Techtopia.
"We need to define ourselves," says Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. "This is our attempt to name the region." If you went to the NVTC's dinner bash last week, you might have picked up a huge poster declaring the area Techtopia, Va., the Internet Capital.
It's a full-color millennium calendar and map of tech companies in the state. About 100 businesses paid $800 each to be featured, and eight banks, real estate firms and other service companies ponied up $3,000 apiece to be listed along the side. The NVTC is still taking submissions from other companies that want to be listed, and will then do another print run of the poster.
You're out of luck (and off the poster), though, if your company is in Maryland or the District. To be fair, Kilberg points out, she runs the Northern Virginia tech council. The group plans to use Techtopia as advertising in public areas around the state. "We hope to get it into airports and hotels so people come into Virginia and know it's the dynamic center of technology," says Kilberg.
Virginia is not alone in the naming game.
Last week Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci (R) declared his state the ".commonwealth" (that's dot-commonwealth) and said he will soon launch an advertising campaign touting it as such.
Entevo Corp. of Arlington, which created software to manage directories in Microsoft Windows 2000, has snared $15 million in venture funding from investors including SAP America, Boulder Ventures and Mellon Ventures.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TechThursday columnist Shannon Henry will host a live Web chat today at 1 p.m. with Gabe Battista, chairman and CEO of Talk.com. To participate, go to www.washingtonpost.com.