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Traits of an e-leader Featured

9:43am EDT July 22, 2002

If you ever wondered what it’s like transforming a freight engine into a bullet train in six months, ask the start-up team at E-Debt.com. Like other dot coms emerging at the edges of the current e-commerce ecology, Akron-based E-Debt.com. is working fast to build a better mouse click.

E-Debt.com, which launched last month, was founded by local businessmen Michael Zoldan, president and CEO, and Morton Stone, chairman of the board. The founders positioned the start-up as a pioneer business-to-business “infomediary,” where consumer debt portfolios can be viewed, processed through due diligence and traded on the basis of price, at auction or through private online mediated negotiations.

According to Stone, “By providing a consistent format for efficient comparison of debt portfolios, E-Debt.com will raise the standards of fairness and competitive pricing” in the transaction arena.

As a start-up, E-Debt.com is achieving construction of its business, market and site at dizzying speeds. The formula for start-up success begins with an unstoppable leadership team, says the company’s CFO, Steve Lefkowitz. Three qualities characterize the practices of leaders in this brave new world of e-commerce.

1. They believe in the company’s concept. The concept’s unique focus energizes the team to move with the velocity required to meet market and/or investor expectations.

2. They are what Lefkowitz calls “amoeba-like.” Where in traditional start-ups, division of responsibilities dominates the culture, e-leaders cross-participate in multidisciplinary decision making. As Lefkowitz proposes, “Managers can’t be individuals who want to be in a solo management role.”

3. They thrive on intelligent risk taking. In a business born of risks, where decisions are made in minutes, not days, everyone becomes a decision maker, moving forward at the speed of light.

Internet start-ups, as with any business, are replete with challenges. Tangents continuously tempt the field of frenetic energy away from its focus. In the E-Debt.com world, tangents that surface in the early phases are fast-forwarded into phase two or phase three of the rapid prototyping process.

Unknowns abound, especially when start-ups focus on new niche offerings. This world is not a secure haven for people who have a penchant for being knowledge egoists. In fact, as Lefkowitz suggests, “We try very hard to identify what we don’t know ... we are organized around the idea of being learn-it-alls rather than being know-it-alls.”

Add to these challenges the incentives awaiting those who arrive first in their markets with unprecedented value to investors and early adopters. Stealth due diligence becomes a prime requirement for those daring to join the ranks of the best positioned to market.

On the plus side, the marketing of the business takes on new dimensions, because the concept is mobile. Unlike bricks and mortar models, e-commerce marketers can traverse time zones, giving prospects an instant, total experience of the business concept from front page to back office.

Because technology is the backbone of the product and the process, speed, cost and global availability become more possible than in any bricks and mortar business model.

Above all, according to Lefkowitz, the site needs to leverage the user’s competencies in the unique service of his or her goals.

“This is not our site — it’s their site,” he insists.

Jack Ricchiuto is a Certified Management Consultant and author of “Collaborative Creativity and Accidental Conversations.” He can be contacted through his Web site, www.newpossibilities.net.