Neophytes in Demand
Their computer career began freshman year, when they began giving computer advice to commercial firms, sometimes with a fee, sometimes without one. Once they developed a reputation in the area for being able to solve computer problems, they formed MARBLE Associates. MARBLE was designed as an acronym of our names--Marc, Alan, and Robert, the original founders of the partnership. On the first of this year, MARBLE Associates became a corporation, thus limiting their personal liability: "If we get a lot of people who 'abuse' us [i.e., don't pay], and we go under, then we don't have to worry about becoming liable for losses," Elvy explains. "We have a credibility problem sometimes because we're just kids."
The two remaining heads--of the corporation, Elvy and Langerman, are proud of the fact that, unlike most companies, they did not need venture capital to incorporate. Instead, they used the profits from the partnership to finance their corporation.
So far, the future looks bright for the firm. They have written books to accompany Digital's courseware and have basically taught AT&T's salesmen, "salesmen who before were just selling telephones," how to use their minicomputer, the UNIX PC. In fact, many retail stores selling AT&T computers now use the demo the two wrote to show off the features of the UNIX.
Langerman and Elvy have also done several jobs for the federal government and are currently waiting to hear the results of a bid they submitted to the IRS: "We figured it was about time that we got back some of the money we've given them," Langerman jokes.
In addition to the three directors, MARBLE has three officers, all of whom work for and are stockholders in the corporation, as well as several other workers who are hired as business requires. But Elvy and Langerman plan to keep the firm relatively small--and flexible. "We don't take too well to a structured job." Langerman says, citing his experience at Microsoft and Elvy's at IBM--where Elvy says he was forced to wear "IBM grey" every day, until one day he rebelled and wore plaid pants. "We work a heck of a lot better by ourselves," Langerman adds.
Their own management style borrows from the Japanese tradition of worker input. "Everyone has the right to say what they want, to suggest any changes, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they have the right to institute those changes. No, really, we do listen to what they have to say," the two attest.
They claim they're "normal, red-blooded Americans," and that their business has not interfered with their schoolwork: "I wouldn't have done any anyway," Langerman claims. Elvy chimes in: "It was a choice between the real world and school. I've chosen the real world." In reality, it has convinced Elvy and Langerman to change their majors from Philosophy and Applied Math, respectively, to Computer Science.
Nor has the enterprise unduly restricted their leisure pursuits. "We have 'active social lives,'" they claim. "It's just a problem because in this business, you have to be on call all the time. You never know when it will force you to cancel weekend plans."
The two are, in the end, seemingly nonchalant about their promising business. Asked to summarize the impact of his self-generated material well being, Elvy replied, "of course the business has changed our lives, but we're still students, and I don't think it will really change our lives until we're out of here." Right now, they're using their personal profits to pay for their entire tuition and to make such investments as their limousine.
Not a Lot of Sleep
MARBLE has, however, affected their sleep schedule. "I can only go to sleep when it's light out," Elvy claims. When pressed to give a realistic schedule, they admit to missing most of their classes and usually catching the tail-end of lunch each day. "About 10 till two each day, I say to Elvy, 'Marc, we have to get up. We have to make lunch.'"
What do they do for fun? "We've perfected the art of hanging out," they say. Their roommate, Jeff Ferguson, founder of the Boston chapter of the Guardian Angels, introduced them to many of his co-workers, who now "hang out" in their Leverett room.
So what do what are their goals? "To form a microrepublic," they joke. "We buy a few islands, then declare war on the U.S. Of course we lose the war, then are rebuilt by the U.S. with war reparations. Then we declare ourselves allied to the U.S. and get loans from the U.S. government. Once we have the loans, we populate the republic with natives."
And how do they see themselves? "Are you familiar with the John Wayne movie in which he puts out fires on oil rigs?" Elvy asks. It seems vaguely familiar. 'Okay. Well, I see us as John Wayne figures, only there's no fire and we don't have the TNT to blow up the oil barrels."
Next they hope to work on books for Digital Press, which has offered to publish their work. But what's in store for them in the long term? Elvy takes the lead is admitting he wants to settle down eventually with the "white picket fence and dozens of kids, I want to write a book someday. I'll call it Hick from Harvard,' Hick from tobacco farm tobacco to Harvard, makes good," Langerman reacts with horror. "That's him, I don't have long-term goals. I'm 21. I figure I've got 30 years ahead expect to live to be 100. I can't predict what will happen."