As a child, David Troy fancied the word "toad." He called his buddies toads, and even some of his possessions. It wasn't that he had a thing for baby frogs; he just liked the sound of the word.
Troy, of Arnold, Md., even incorporated the word into the name of a successful company he founded as a preteen.
Today, ToadNet is an Internet service provider with 25,000 users.
Troy launched his business soon after his parents bought a $99 computer kit for him in 1984, when he was 12.
With his father's guidance, Troy learned simple programming. Before long, he had developed his own bulletin board, a single-user dial-up electronic message board on his family's home phone line.
Trouble was, the household soon was getting a barrage of phone calls at all hours of the day and night. Troy's mom ordered her son to get his own phone line.
In 1986, Troy and a friend, Ray Mitchell, 17, began buying computers wholesale and reselling them. They called their business Toad Computers.
Within a few years, the pair had developed a sizable Atari game mail-order business. Troy was then in 11th grade and Mitchell was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus. The two would alternate shifts manning the phone lines.
In 1988, when Atari changed its rules and required distributors to have a retail storefront, Toad Computers moved into a 900-square-foot office that was formerly a weight-loss center off Ritchie Highway in Severna Park. While Troy's parents were willing to co-sign the lease, they drew the line at investing large sums into his business.
So, Troy got a $25,000 bank loan to buy inventory.
By 1991, the company was pulling in nearly $1.5 million. Not bad for a teenager.
But the business was not all work. One day, a woman named Jennifer came in to buy a computer. One thing led to another, and Jennifer became ToadNet's first employee. A year later, she and Troy were married. "It's a pretty good way of securing your employee," David Troy, now 30, said jokingly.
As a quality control manager, Jennifer Troy looks after customer relations.
Around the time she came aboard, ToadNet moved into its current location, a 4,000-square-foot space in Severna Park Plaza.
In the mid-1990s, Troy bought a T-1 line, which gives computers high-speed connections to the Internet, from which he began to sell goods and services for the Toad computer store. In 1996, the company set up a partnership with Annapolis-based Core Communications, allowing Toad to serve users throughout Maryland and the region without having to pay steep long-distance fees.
Also that year, Mitchell, who said he felt burned out, accepted a buyout from Troy, who shut down Toad Computers and launched ToadNet. Mitchell now works for Knox Financial Group in Baltimore.
Last year, ToadNet began offering nationwide dial-up service. And this year, the company is projecting revenue of about $5 million, in part from an increase in wholesale broadband business. Twenty percent of ToadNet's broadband business is selling to other Internet service providers.
ToadNet has 25 employees and operates its own tech-support lines during the day, then contracts out tech support in the late evening hours.
Looking back at the past few years, Troy says the dot-com bust has been a little scary, especially when he thinks about all the companies that have failed.
"But you look around and see that you're still there," he said.
-- Jeremy Breningstall