Electronic Press Banking on E-Commerce: Government Efforts to Go Paperless Serves Reston Firm

By Hyman, Julie | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 17, 1999 | Go to article overview

Electronic Press Banking on E-Commerce: Government Efforts to Go Paperless Serves Reston Firm


Hyman, Julie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The federal government is often faulted for being slow, inefficient and late to adopt new technologies and business practices.

But executives at a Reston technology company say the opposite is true, and they are banking on the government's effort to go paperless to help their business.

"[The government is] actually in the forefront of e-commerce," said Robert Main, co-founder of Electric Press.

Bob Cohen, a senior vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, agrees.

"E-commerce is certainly a red-hot area and the federal government is certainly moving strongly in that direction," he said.

Electric Press has two divisions. One unit makes procurement software, called eFed, for the government and the companies that serve it. The software, which Mr. Main describes as a kind of "Amazon.gov," allows government agencies and private contractors to communicate and do business on line.

The other unit digitizes science and technology books, putting entire texts on line as a sales tool. Electric Press also allows publishers to print out books from the Internet, eliminating the need for inventory and the problem of out-of-print texts. Mr. Main said the units are in the process of splitting into two separate companies.

Electric Press was one of the first Web site developers when it was founded in 1993. The four founders had been employees at the National Academy of Sciences, a congressionally-funded, nonprofit think tank. Mr. Main remembers the day he got a yellow sticky note on his desk from the chief operating officer, telling him to get a personal computer on everyone's desk.

So Mr. Main became responsible for convincing the network of scientists with which the academy communicated to use cutting-edge technology, including computers and the fledgling Arpanet, the Internet's predecessor.

"I had to sell the technology, basically - I had to sell the value. That kind of background started to shape my view of the world and what interested me as a businessman," Mr. Main said.

Ron Linehan was another academy colleague who became an Electric Press founder.

"We all developed the same vision at the same time," he said.

The vision was based upon three factors. The Arpanet was becoming commercial, and the "http" and browser systems of organizing it were invented.

"Let's become one of the first guys out there to be a one-stop shop," was the thinking behind Electric Press' creation, Mr. Main said.

In December 1993, each founder put in $25,000. …

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