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ENTREPRENEUR PROFILES

5.14.99  
Can This Software Builder Make It in the "New Web World"?
Andover Tech got on the Net and created a new business model

In the mid-'90s, Bruce Twickler, the president of Andover Advanced Technologies Inc., a multimedia software publisher in Acton, Mass., saw the Internet coming, like a giant tidal wave. He figured he had better ride with it or be wiped out entirely.

The problem? Multimedia software publishers were starting to distribute software samples over the Net, and some specialty software retailers were closing their stores entirely. Hoping to sell and promote its graphics-intensive software online, Andover first launched a Web site called DaveCentral.com, a virtual buffet of shareware for visitors to download and sample. DaveCentral lured thousands of techies a day and helped sell some of the company's own licensed products.

But the real payoff came in late 1996, when it dawned on Andover that advertisers would actually pay to reach the tech-savvy professionals who visited its Web site. Andover jettisoned its licensed software products and reinvented itself as an Internet publisher aiming at information technology professionals. "I was disappointed that the Internet so completely changed the software business," concedes Twickler. "But we picked up the challenge and opportunities of the new Web world."

Twickler and his seven employees used their sales, marketing, and technical experience in software publishing to create a site that people would come back to time and again. They replaced a contract sales force with independent publishers' reps, and by the end of April, 1997, they had attracted 20 online advertisers. Then, the company launched Andover.Net, which offers visitors a variety of E-tools, shareware, and news pages -- plus, of course, DaveCentral. It also dishes up free online goodies, such as an animation program and a Web-page builder that you use while logged onto the Internet. Andover's advertisers include Compaq, Gateway, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems.

This month, the company will move from its 2,500-square-foot offices in an old house with crystal chandeliers to a space five times that size in a nearby office park. They've staffed up to 34 employees -- and are still hiring.

Although Andover lost nearly $445,000 last year on total sales of $1.4 million, the company's investors haven't flinched. Venture capitalists have injected $4.8 million to support the company's growth in three rounds of financing.

There are no guarantees, of course, that this reinvented business can make it, but trying is half the fun for Twickler -- who's on his sixth business. Like many an Internet hopeful, Twickler's aiming for the brass ring -- an eventual initial public offering. Only one thing is for sure in this fast-mutating business: There's no turning back.

By Greg Sandler in Northampton, Mass.

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