Unlike many of his contemporaries, Andrew Dyduk and four of his friends at university were not content to ride out their final semesters in a permanent hangover, avoiding the reality of life outside the comfy world of academia. Instead, they were formulating a business plan for a Web development company they would later christen Kinetic Design Group (KDG).
A few years on and the company has secured several small business clients and is tasting its first success after signing a number of corporate Web development contracts. The KDG team ranges from a designer aged 19, a 21-year-old business development manager and three programmers aged between 22 and 23.
"The Internet is our medium, it's our time," said business development manager Andrew Dyduk. "It's where young people get a chance to blossom."
Borrowing a small amount of money from his father, getting advice from mentors in marketing and venture capital businesses and setting up shop at home, Dyduk and his friends began working on small-scale designs before gradually working their way into larger back-end projects.
At present, the team is moving the entire system of tax software firm Intelligent Business Services Australia (IBSA) off a Novell server and into an NT environment and has completed e-commerce sites for a number of smaller businesses, such as newcomputers.com.au. Six months ago, the group moved into its first office and has been aggressively targeting new business and reseller deals to push the company further.
According to Dyduk, being young does not have to be a disadvantage when running a business. While first impressions of the group's age have concerned some potential clients, Dyduk believes that, given time, the group will be generally judged on its skills and the quality of its work rather than the age of its respective members.
"Once you meet face to face, and they can see you know what you're talking about, that you are genuine and present yourself as being part of a reputable business with a good portfolio, it all speaks for itself," he said.
Reseller agreements have led the company to a variety of new business opportunities in recent months, beginning with a hosting relationship with Connect Solutions (for SME customers) and WebCentral (for larger customers).
KDG has also signed as a partner to communications consultant Corestar, a reseller of MCI WorldCom bandwidth, to have KDG's customised Web development services bundled with a range of other communication services.
"We are always pursuing new relationships with bigger businesses that have recognition," Dyduk said. "We have to put ourselves on the map and get into some bigger board rooms."
Dyduk is gradually becoming a fan of the bigger board rooms, where larger budgets allow his team to spend more time coming up with creative ways of presenting Web content. But Dyduk's taste for corporate clients has not taken away his belief in learning to crawl before you walk, concentrating the majority of the group's work on building up its customer portfolio.
"At first we didn't even have a proper business plan, it was just a big adventure," he said. "I always wanted to do something different and to work for myself, but I've had to learn a lot about running a business, like the ins and outs of contracts. It has been a huge learning curve for all of us."
The recent tech stock crash taught the next wave of Web developers a valuable lesson in running an Internet-based business, namely that the same rules apply as any other business. Like many of his peers, Dyduk knew the Web development houses were severely overvalued and is glad the market has returned to some sense of normality, even if it does make funding harder to come by.
"I think people have woken up to the real value of this industry now," he said. "The work you do has to be worth its weight in gold if you want to be valued at all. If anything, the failure of the Zivos strengthens us - we have less competitors."
Similarly, Dyduk is not out to live the dot-com lifestyle. His long hours tend to upset his girlfriend, but working with his closest friends means he finds most of his time at work are enjoyable. "There are no Porsches in our driveways," he said.
In fact, the realities of today's business world have meant that some of the more ambitious plans the group had when the company was founded have had to be revised. The prospect of making money from fixed deals for customers went out the window as the group discovered customers and developers alike prefer to sit down and talk about customer needs rather than grab a solution off the shelf.
The group has also decided to absorb any additional costs when projects go over budget as a sign of goodwill to customers. But this rationalisation has not limited Dyduk's imagination.
"I love success stories," he said. "Especially the rags to riches ones. We model ourselves on those people. We'd like to be the next Yahoo! one day - a couple of guys who built a major corporation out of their basement."
The group has also had to consider the possibility that a young team of Web developers with a good portfolio could be a prime target for acquisition by a larger company. But Dyduk has that possibility covered.
"We joked about this at the start and promised each other that, instead of selling out to someone, we'd rather stick together and, eventually, buy them," he said.