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Silicon Dispatches

Posted at 5:08 p.m. PST Friday, February 19, 1999

A platform for experience of their lives


DAN Brown worked at NASA on high performance computing. Neilesh Patel's job was at Modus Media over in Fremont.

They were OK high school summer jobs, but how far could they take a couple of young men?

``We decided to have a consulting company,'' Brown, 18, says. ``Start up a little company and make some money.''

And why not? Brown and Patel live in a land where anyone with a www seems to turn it into a million bucks overnight. They knew computers. They knew others who didn't know computers. Maybe they could sell what they knew.

``It's a lot harder than it looks to get clients and stuff,'' says Patel, who like Brown attends St. Francis High School in Mountain View.

It's especially hard when you have the know-how, but not the experience. So, the two decided that rather than selling what they know, they'd give it away.

``We'd gain more clients,'' Patel, 17, explains.

Think Netscape giving away its browser, or an Internet company that spends more to get customers than the customers spend on the Internet. Brown and Patel figured they'd help non-profits and individuals with everything from troubleshooting to Web design. If a moneymaking company wanted their help, they'd charge a fee to help support their other work. No, they wouldn't make money, but the experience would be invaluable.

They put up fliers and posted notices on the Web. They created a Web site ( and got some nibbles.

``I was looking for furniture,'' says Lenita Ellis, who had just graduated from Stanford and found StudentsHelp among the online classifieds. ``I needed a computer for my job.''

Ellis' job was running the youth services program for Free at Last, an East Palo Alto non-profit drug rehab program. She sent Patel and Brown an e-mail last fall saying she was looking for a machine. They offered to build her what she needed, if she'd pay for the parts.

``We went in there,'' Patel says, ``and made them a real nice computer.''

Then they got Netscape, where Patel's mother works, to donate a monitor and software.

``It took about three weeks total,'' says Ellis, who depends on the pair for tech support.

The two have recruited a half-dozen others to help. They've worked on Web sites for a local artist and a trade organization. And they've answered bushels of e-mail seeking help.

``They need someone else to help them along as they learn,'' Patel says of those who write.

He and Brown would like their outfit to become a full-time pursuit. They want the help to remain free, but they've thought about selling advertising on sites they build.

``We have a lot of big ideas,'' says Patel.

No doubt.

Hey! Have an only-in-Silicon-Valley story? Call Mike Cassidy at (408) 920-5536 or send e-mail to



1999 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.

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