Joseph Park is spreading his Web gospel of instant gratification all across the country.
This week, he's preaching here in Washington.
Park, chief executive of New York's Kozmo.com, is setting up localized Internet versions of convenience stores. He's got a real-world warehouse on 14th Street stocked with thousands of movies, CDs, books and snacks. And he's hired 15 full-time employees and 50 part-time delivery workers in the area who are ready to be summoned by the click of a lazy "Godfather II" fan or a desperate Pop-Tart lover.
You can now log on to Kozmo.com, type in your Washington Zip code (in certain parts of the region) and within an hour have "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," Beck's new CD, "Midnite Vultures," and a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream delivered to your door. No delivery charge added. Movies, which come in VHS or DVD (Kozmo has 15,000 to choose from), can be rented or bought. (The catch: They won't pick up the rentals for free.)
Next year the sites, which have different versions for New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston, will start offering non-prescription drugstore items, pet food, beer and other necessities on demand in Washington. If you're sick, you can get Kozmo.com to deliver aspirin, magazines, movies and comfort food.
Lately there's been a spate of Internet-based food delivery services popping up, such as Streamline.com Inc. and Peapod Inc. But it's too early to tell if the concept will catch on, or if any of these businesses can succeed with such narrow profit margins--especially if they don't charge to deliver the goods.
Park says free delivery isn't just a gimmick to attract first-time customers. "It will always be free delivery," he says. "We will deliver a pack of gum for free."
Park, 28, says he named the company after the Kramer character on the sitcom "Seinfeld" and Park's favorite drink, the New York beverage of the moment, the Cosmopolitan. "We believe if Kramer ever spelled his first name, this is how he'd spell it," Park says.
He came up with the idea in 1997 while working as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, feeling frustrated, he says, with the long checkout lines at Barnes & Noble bookstores and the lack of instant delivery from Amazon.com.
Park claims he'll make money on volume, buying at wholesale and selling at retail. The company expects annual revenues to reach $3 million in 1999 and to be profitable--in New York only--by the end of the year.
Park has raised $32 million in capital, from sources as varied as venture capitalist Flatiron Partners, the founders of Taco Bell and New York financier Henry Kravis. The plan is to be in 30 markets by the end of next year.
So who are the kind of people who can't be bothered to pick up their own movies? "We cater to preteens without cars, lazy college students, busy working professionals and parents with kids," he says.
The company, Park says, is "bringing New York convenience to the rest of the United States," he says. Park believes in moving the company at New York speed, too. "We're definitely on an IPO track," he says.
Kramer would be proud.
Starting a company is a lot like launching a rock band.
So says a guy who's done both. Lots of techies are also musicians, like David Levine, chief executive of Ultraprise Corp., which sells secondary mortgages over the Internet. He used to be well known in Washington as the lead singer for Senator Flux, a post-punk band. Levine says that while the tech scene here has become much more successful than the band scene has ever been (the area has produced America Online and UUNet but not an R.E.M. or Nirvana) there are many similarities.
"Being part of a scene is the key ingredient," says Levine, whose company is based in Shepherdstown, W.Va., although he's opening a Dulles office Wednesday and is thinking about moving the headquarters closer to the District. "Sitting there waiting for [music mogul David] Geffen is similar to looking for venture money."
He started his company in 1993 with $5,000 he got from the National Endowment for the Arts (the other NEA) that he spent on computers instead of his band. Levine says the NEA didn't stipulate how the money was to be used and that it was a general "poor starving artist" grant.
"I'd just seen [early Web browser] Mosaic. . . . I never wrote another word or put out another album."
Here's Levine's analysis of how a band is like a tech start-up:
Rock: Garage band
Rock: Record demo
Tech: Seed capital
Rock: Indie label
Tech: Early-stage funding
Rock: Sign to major label
Tech: Late-stage funding
Rock: Hit the charts
In what may be the greatest example yet of how mammoth AOL has become, the Dulles Internet giant next month will offer its employees a new perk: a special radio frequency that will tell them which of the six campus parking lots are already full.
About 2,000 of AOL's 12,000 employees work at the Virginia headquarters. When construction is completed next summer on two more buildings, AOLers from other parts of the area will move to headquarters, bringing the company's Dulles total to 3,400.
Next up: maps on the company intranet to guide employees to conference rooms, the three restaurants and other offices. "We're trying to make life more convenient," says Mark Stavish, vice president of human resources and facilities at AOL.
They already have their own street sign, "AOL Way." But, mysteriously, AOL still doesn't have a sign on the main building. A recently hung sign was quickly removed, dubbed too "ugly" by executives.
John Funge is the latest under-30 paper millionaire of the local tech community.
Funge, 28, just sold his 60-person Web services firm, Clara Vista Corp. of Fairfax, to CMGI Inc. of Andover, Mass. The Carnegie Mellon University graduate won't say exactly how much CMGI paid, but he confirmed it will launch him into the new millionaire pool. CMGI in July bought fellow under-30 chief executive Ben Lilienthal's company, Nascent Technologies.
Funge says he'll stay with CMGI but can see himself starting another company in the future. "You're an entrepreneur once, you're always an entrepreneur," he says.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAPTION: Joseph Park in his New York warehouse; he has another one on 14th Street in the District stocked with items that Kozmo.com will bring to buyers for no delivery charge.