Brothers Alain and Patrick Hanash say they are out to make the phrase "global Internet" come true.
The Hanashes quit their jobs more than a year ago to create Multicity.com, a new kind of online gathering place for Web surfers around the world to meet, chat and use online services.
Unlike America Online, Yahoo and other online companies that are based in the United States and create foreign satellites, Multicity is trying to build a network of sites around the world, each steeped in the culture of its own country.
The company distributes Multicity software to Web site developers, who then create content and services as well as links to all the other sites. This "viral" approach means that, unlike AOL, the Hanashes don't need to maintain their own network and the expensive "server farms" that carry the traffic.
The result: Since the service was officially launched last March, the service estimates that about 80,000 users can engage in international conversation in some 20 languages.
The company also is developing software that will allow users to perform on-the-fly translation of chat and instant messages to further lower the barriers between cultures. "We consider Multicity to be the only truly global network on the Internet," says Alain, 29.
The children of a Lebanese father and a French mother, the Hanashes have lived all over the world. The brothers left comfortable jobs in management and financial consulting to build their start-up from the basement of their McLean home. They hope to profit from advertising, sponsorship and the sale of services to their diverse clientele--and to help consumers around the world draw from each other's cultures.
"For us," Alain says, "success would be when we look back in five years and see there's a French song, an African song and a Brazilian song on the top-10 charts."
Big idea: Global online service with an international flair.
Launch date: March 1999
Where idea hatched: Transatlantic call between Alain in Manchester, England, and Patrick in New York City.
Who's in charge: Alain is CEO; Patrick, 31, is president and CFO.
Previous jobs: Alain worked as a management consultant with Ernst & Young; Patrick was a private financial consultant.
How the founders got together: They're brothers, remember?
Biggest personal risk: Quitting well-paying consulting jobs to go out on their own -- with little savings to fall back on.
First employee hired: Ariana Iacobucci, head of product support and business development
Origin of company name: "A lot of the good ones were taken," Alain says, but he adds that the name implies a multilingual, multicultural, cosmopolitan city.
Why be in Washington? The family lived in the Washington area for years; the brothers returned from New York to save money when launching the company.
Company most admired (besides this one): Microsoft (Alain); IBM (Patrick).
CAPTION: Working out of their basement in McLean, brothers Alain (left) and Patrick Hanash are trying to build a network of Web sites around the world.