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Part 1

"Okay, boys and girls." Marvin Neil, CEO of Shelbus Enterprises, stood at the end of the conference room table, looking gravely at the collection of teetering executives sitting nervously around him, "Playtime's over. Each of our four major competitors has launched a Web site in the past year, and subsequently each has gained market share against us. We need to catch up, and we need to catch up fast. I want our own Web site up by the end of the next quarter."

The others looked around at each other, sharing their thoughts through their expressions. Ordinarily, Marvin was a laid-back boss who took a "hands-off" approach with his employees, creating a corporate environment where teamwork was the norm and everyone's ideas were taken seriously. Around the office, he was chatty and approachable, almost sweet—stopping just short of becoming too friendly. But when he was annoyed like he was today, free and open conversation was a rare commodity.

Finally, Chris Johnson, VP of Business Development, cleared his throat. "Excuse me, Marv," Chris spoke up, "but the current quarter is almost over. What's the extent of the site that you have in mind? Are we talking about an informational site only, or are you thinking about putting our entire catalog online?"

Marvin sat down, looking thoughtful. It was no secret that his knowledge of the Internet was on a par with his knowledge of quantum physics (and he knew nothing about quantum physics). "Well," he looked at Chris, "You tell me. What's reality?"

"Honestly, I don't see us putting together a full e-commerce site of our entire catalog in just over three months. We don't have the proper databases organized, product photography has to be manipulated, and we have to do an agency search for a good Web developer; and then they still have to have time to actually program the site. Not to mention," Chris looked up at his colleagues, all of whom were listening intently, "I don't know if we're set up internally to handle the influx of orders that we could have after the site is finally launched. You're talking about reaching customers outside of our typical marketing range. I don't know what kind of marketing budget we're putting on this, but we could potentially see a spike in sales, and I'd be worried that we'll be unprepared for it."

"So what are you saying?" asked Marv. "Do you think that we shouldn't have a Web site at all?"

"No, that's not what I mean. I just want to understand the extent of what you're looking for within the next quarter. We sell more than 400 products," Chris replied. "And putting all of those products online can and will be done. We just have to be careful with the production shcedule, that's all."

Marvin was looking dour. "So what do you recommend?"

"Well," Chris was gaining confidence as Marvin was accepting his opinions, "I think we go full force in development, but limit the site in terms of e-commerce capabilities. Let's choose two of the product categories that have a smaller amount of products in them, and start the site with those. That way, it's just a 'phase one' operation that can realistically get done on time, give us a chance to test functionality after launch, and measure customer reaction to the site. Then we can roll out future phases with more products."

The conference room was silent as Marvin contemplated Chris' recommendation. Chris looked around at everyone else. By the slow nods of heads, it seemed that most everyone agreed with him. On the far side of the table, though, one head was still. Gary Temblake, VP of Operations, had been silent the whole time, taking the conversation in. It wasn't unusual for him to oppose most of Chris's opinions. They had never really gotten along, but what had been a mere dislike seemed to evolve into all-out contempt after Chris was promoted ahead of him a year earlier. Chris turned his head before his and Gary's eyes could meet.

Marvin sat up. "What does everyone else think?"

"I agree with Chris." Erica Jackson, who worked in Chris's department, was knowledgeable about Web marketing, and was considered throughout the company to be a savvy, bright up-and-comer. "I know that we're under the gun, but we don't want to make unnecessary mistakes by doing too much too quickly. I think Chris has a good idea. We've got one chance to win people over—if they don't like the site the first time, they come, it's going to be tough to get them back again, and it'll tarnish our overall brand. I think we should push ahead with Chris's phase approach." Positive comments around the table sounded off in agreement.

Marvin sat in contemplation. Then he looked across the table. "Gary, "you've been unusually quiet today. What do you think?"

Gary made no move, but continued sitting there, tapping his pen against his pad. Finally, he spoke up. "What do I think? I think this whole "phase" idea is ridiculous. Are we suddenly afraid of success? Roll out with only a small portion of the site, and we'll look smaller and further behind than any of our competitors. With all due respect, if Chris were so concerned about 'doing it right,' then he should have already had the site under development months ago. Read the papers: the Web didn't just appear yesterday."

Angry at Gary's unwarranted attack, Chris moved to argue back, but he was stopped by a kick under the table by Greg, the New Business Director. "Marv," Greg started, "We could debate all day about when the site should have been started—the fact that we don't have one is everybody's fault. I think as a company we all thought we had more time before we really had to think about it. But that's not the case any more. So rather than point fingers, I think that we have to determine the best strategy. In my opinion, the best strategy isn't to jump in blindly, but to take small steps and do it right."

A few others began to chime in with their own thoughts, but Marvin cut them off. "Well, I admit that I don't know a lot about the Web; only that we need to be on it. Chris, if you say that it'll take more time than I'm expecting, then I'll take you on your word. Figure out what a good 'phase one' would be that can be completed by the end of next quarter, and let's go with that. I'll expect a complete write-up of what products we're putting online and the specific goals we're setting for ourselves on my desk by the end of the week. Now, if nobody has anything else to add, I think that's about all."

Around the table, people started to collect their things and head out of the conference room. Gary gave Chris a long hard look and a brief laugh. Greg held back, waiting for Chris, and the two walked out together. "I didn't mean to stop you before," Greg said apologetically, "but you know Gary. He's just playing politics. He knows the old man doesn't get the Web, so he's just setting himself up to try and look like the hero. He's going to be there to point out every wrong turn. In the meantime, we have to sit down and figure out how we're going to do this thing in the next few months."

Chris slapped his friend on the shoulder and went off to his office to start considering his options.

Later, Chris and Erica went to lunch and continued talking about the upcoming Web project. "Part of the problem right now is that we don't even have a budget for the site," said Chris. "Until Marvin comes up with a number, there's really not much that we can do."

"Well, when do you think he'll come up with a budget?"

"I've got a meeting with him coming up later this afternoon to talk about it. He's got no idea how much this thing's going to cost, so I'm going to go over it with him. He needs to come up with the money yesterday if he wants us to get done on schedule."

"Well, when you figure out the budget, let's talk, and I'll introduce you to my friend's agency. They do really good work," replied Erica.

Marvin paced around his office. Gary was sitting in a chair a few feet away from him. "Chris, I've asked Gary to sit in on this meeting, if you don't mind. He expressed an interest in being involved with the project, so even though you'll be in charge of getting the site up and running...well, let's just say the more bright minds working on it, the better."

Chris didn't look at Gary, but could feel him smiling in his chair. "No, Marv. I don't mind. Sounds like a good idea," he lied.

Marvin sat down at his desk. "Okay. Sowhat kind of money are we looking at needing for this project?"

"I think it's a matter of two budgets," Chris replied. "You're going to need one budget for building the site and another for marketing it."

"Do we need to allocate funds for both at the same time?"

"No, not necessarily. Marketing money can wait, at least for awhile. The money that we really need right now is the money to build the site. Obviously, we can't do it here—we don't have that kind of capability. We'll need to find an outside company to build it, and that can be pricy. I'd say that for two product categories—e-commerce capability and a Web-enabled database—we're probably looking at about $150,000."

"$150 grand? For a Web site?" Gary looked at Chris like he was nuts. "That seems very excessive. We can pare that down considerably. I've got a nephew that knows Photoshop and can design the site for practically nothing. After that, get some kids out of Chubb who are looking to build a portfolio, and you're done. 20 grand tops for the whole thing."

Chris closed his eyes for a long moment. Is this what he was going to have to deal with throughout this project? "Gary, if you want to build the site with kids and college students, be my guest. But leave me out of it. Web development takes a lot more than just Photoshop graphics and a few lines of code. There are intuitive databases, routing systems, invoicing systems. The site has to be designed not just to look good, but to let people find information easily, which means being built by people who understand navigation. We're talking about the potential of a lot of people coming to the site."

Marv jumped in before Gary could respond. "Do we need to spend $150,000 every time we add a new phase of the project? You're talking about starting with two product categories. We have eight product categories. We can't afford to spend $150,000 each time we add more products."

"You won't have to, Marv," Chris explained. "The $150,000 will give you the foundation—the databases and the setup that we need to grow the site in the future. Updates and additions in the future will be minimal unless we do a complete overhaul for some reason. But spending 20 grand on Gary's nephew is throwing money away."

"I'm not going to hire a kid to build our company's Web site. I'm sorry, Gary. No offense intended, but at the same time, I don't know enough about the Web to feel confident that we're going to see a positive ROI from an initial investment of $150,000. Chris, find an agency to work with that can do the job well, but let's top this thing off at $100,000, and see what it can do before we spend more on it. Then we'll set up a marketing budget."

Chris and Gary got up to leave, and Chris headed straight for Erica's office. "Hey," he called in to her, "have you got the number of your friend's company lying around?"

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