Uplink: Little Frim on Ground Floor of Internet Access

Article excerpt

The Internet guarantees money to no one, but it does offer the chance to work 90 hours a week. Just ask Steve Catanzaro.

Catanzaro is president of SDC Consulting Inc., a start-up company that provides access to the Internet for computer users in the St. Louis area under the name Inlink.

Inlink is a bit smaller than, say, a Sprint or an IBM. Catanzaro is Inlink's president, technical specialist, marketing head and the guy who answers the phone. His wife, Jeanne, helps out when she isn't teaching nursing.

After opening Inlink in May 1994, and working 80 to 90 hours a week since then, Catanzaro has finally turned a profit.

"Last month I made $500," he said. "This month, $1,000, maybe $2,000."

Expect growth.

You can't just sign on to the Internet. You need an access provider, someone who has a T1 telephone link to the Internet. T1 has the capacity to transmit enormous amounts of data. About 18 months ago Catanzaro wanted to get on the Internet, but could find no local company offering access.

"You could get in through Wash U.," he said, "but they only offered the service to companies." Out-of-town companies offered access, but that meant long-distance phone charges.

Catanzaro had been working as controller for the Zipp's drive-through hamburger chain when it was sold. He got some money out of the deal, but lost his employment. The Internet beckoned. "I needed a job," Catanzaro said. "I decided it was something you could make money on. I invested close to $150,000."

It would have cost more but he assembled a lot of the equipment himself. "This is not something you would jump into without technical ability," he said. He bought top-of-the-line computers, paid $28,000 for a T1 line, and began hustling for customers.

Anyone who has started up a hot-dog stand or a steel company knows what came next. Impossibly long hours for remarkably little money. How did Catanzaro live without an income?

"My wife was working," Catanzaro said. "Credit cards was the other part. I'm over the hump now. But it got down to the rock bottom."

With Internet's popularity growing rapidly, and mostly by word of mouth, the customers started to come to Inlink. "Luckily, I didn't have any competition during that period," Catanzaro said.

Many access providers charge a small monthly fee, say $15, but tack on a dollar-an-hour fee for every hour the user spends on the Internet. …