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Two Freshman Entrepreneurs Put Computer Careers on Hold

Student Snapshot

By Kathrine M. Peterson

When Evan O. Grossman 87 and Roy G. Niederhoffer '87 began their computer company as high school sophomores, they discovered that not everything was ready to accept two teenagers is business partners.

"We wanted to take Master Card and Visa mail charges for our software catalog items." Grossman explains. "The Master Card man was kind of surprised when he came to a house and was asked into the living room by a 14-year-old," he recalls.

But despite the man's reaction, they were given permission to accept the credit cards for mail orders, and went on to overcome many other obstacles confronting teenage entrepreneurs.

While the pair has since retired they've left their mark on the computer game market-more than 450 of their programs are on sale at stores such as Sears K-Mart and Woolworth's.

Innovative

The Great Neck, N Y natives formed their first company, Software Innovations, in 1980. After building up a mailing list of more than 3,000 computer owners, they decied to expand To raise money, they sold shares in the firm to teachers and friends, and borrowed funds from their families.

"We always made sure our shareholders were smaller than we were'. Niederhoffer says, adding, "Anybody else might have heat us up if the dividends were late."

With the additional money, Grossman and Niederhoffer were able to produce a '6-page mail-order catalog that listed.

programs made by themselves, friends, and other companies.

"For just a little more money, we could get a lot more catalogues, so we ordered 7500. Roy still has a thousand lining his garage," Grossman says.

The freshmen have kept more than surplus catalogues; they are, friends say, average freshmen.

"Evan's worked really hard to avoid the stereotypical image of what a computer junkie's supposed to be," says his roommate, William B. Canterbury '87.

"He throws good parties," says Bradley H. Boyer '87, another roommate, adding. "He knows so much about computers that he helps me when I need it in CS II (an introductory computer class.)"

And says Niederhoffer's Wigglesworth suitemate, David A. Angel '87. "I'd never have known about his business if I hadn't happened to read an article lying around our room. He doesn't make a big deal of it."

Grossman, says his proctor, "handles his success in a very mature way." Third-year medical student Richard Z. Kaplan, who is also Grossman's academic advisor, adds, "You would never know this kid had such success."

Expansion

In March 1982, Money magazine wrote about teenage entrepreneurs and included the successful company. The owner of a large record company then contacted them, wanting to form a joint venture with the then-juniors.

They agreed to supply the larger company with computer games in return for an initial fee and a commission per game. They hired lawyers and formed the corporation. "Microvations."

"They became businessmen right before my very eyes," recalls high school classmate Bruce J. Rinderman '87.

The two immediately began of function as businessmen. They subcontracted classmates and friend who programmed games. Kept books and typed. And they hired someone to pick up finished programs and run other errands-they were still too young to drive.

At first, Grossman and Niederhoffer say, they tried to include their friends in the business as much as possible. But they learned that business and pleasure don't mix.

"We has 30 people working for us at our peak," Niederhoffer remarks, adding. "It became really difficult because there was a lot of tension from friends who worked for us. We learned that people start to want [money] at the expense of friendship and feelings."

Applled Math

Just before they left for college, Grossman and Niederhoffer dissolved the company on August 31 at 6.00 p.m. Although they aren't professionally involved with computers during the school year, both have found their skills helpful in writing Expos papers on the wordprocessor and sending form letters to friends. "I tell them my handwriting's too had to be read." Says Niederhoffer.

Both entrepreneurs are making an effort to explore areas other that computers. Although Grossmsn isn't sure yet of his field of concentration. Niederhoffer says he's interested in Biology and Psychology and social Relations.

Both say they have made contacts in the business world that should be helpful in the future. Their latest business meeting was with Emmanual Barron, publisher of standardized tests workbooks, to talk about designing computer programs as multi-choice study aids.

"It's hard to say that money wasn't the number-one reward." Grossman says, "but we learned about business, tax law, and how to deal around the sometimes unpleasant feelings of people-not to mention what we learned about computers.

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