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Have you ever heard a story about some guy who started an Internet company or got pre-IPO stock in a company and is now a millionaire? Of course, you have. When you hear those stories do you think about starting a dot-com yourself but then brush off the idea because you’re too busy with law school and don’t have the time, don’t have the money, or don’t even know where to begin? Even with the high-tech market as volatile as it has been lately, the Internet is not going anywhere, and a lot of money is still pouring into startups. While not an easy task, you can start your own Internet company while still in law school. In fact, two students at University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, Bob Buch (�00) and Michael Stajer (�02), have done just that. FreeRider.com, which Buch started while in his second year at Hastings, has recently been acquired by NetZero.com for one million shares of NetZero stock. Not bad for an idea that evolved over beers in a Los Angeles hotel room. Buch and a friend from UCLA, Ryan Cunningham, came up with their idea for a free Internet Service Provider (ISP) in November 1998. Cunningham, a software programmer, wrote their first demo for an online video player for television commercials. At the same time, Buch researched and wrote a business plan for supporting the costs of the free ISP with online advertising. Through other friends, Buch and Cunningham were able to raise seed money to get their plan off the ground. They soon hooked up with a well-connected talent agent in Los Angeles, who took them on a mini-road show to the movie studios. The result? In just one day Buch and Cunningham raised $500,000, which they used to open a San Francisco office and start building their technology. At about that same time, Buch and his partners realized that their free ISP space was becoming too crowded, so they rewrote their business plan, sidelined the free ISP idea, started focusing on a business to business (B2B) technology plan, and changed the company name to AimTV. Without even having their technology fully developed, Buch and his partners then met with the top people at NetZero, a leading free ISP, and started talks for NetZero to buy them out. The buy-out terms included job offers with NetZero for key people at AimTV. However, while AimTV’s key tech people, CEO and some marketing team members went on to work for NetZero, Buch decided to concentrate on other ventures — including the completion of law school. During the one year from idea to sale Buch never missed a beat with law school; he sat for all his exams and recently graduated with the rest of his class. When asked about his post-school plans, he said his focus had changed as a result of his experience with FreeRider and AimTV. Previously, he had been set on being a corporate lawyer to Internet startups. In fact, he worked for Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe in Menlo Park, Calif., during the summer after his first year of law school and later hired that firm to represent FreeRider/ AimTV as outside counsel. In addition, Buch was involved with much of the in-house legal work for AimTV. However, he ultimately decided he much preferred the business aspect. “I probably won’t practice law,” he now says, “but I still think it is valuable to be skilled in a trade.” He and his old partner Cunningham have since started an incubator company to help other startups evolve into funded companies, and Buch says he will definitely look for opportunities to start another company after sitting for the California Bar. Starting his Internet company in July 1999, just before he began law school, Michael Stajer is the founder and creator of Winecommune.com, an online wine auction house. His site allows people to auction wines from their own personal collection at no charge to either the seller or the buyer. The highest price fetched for a bottle listed on Stajer’s site so far has been $13,000 for a 1900 Chateaux Margaux. The site is the leader in the free wine auction market, hosting about 1,000 auctions at a time and surpassing even Yahoo’s wine sales. Stajer, a wine enthusiast himself, says he launched Winecommune because “I saw wine being auctioned off on Yahoo along with Beanie Babies, and I thought wine is special and should have a place of its own.” He wrote the first version of the software that powers Winecommune’s auction capabilities — and auctioned off his own personal wine collection to launch the site. Since then, his registered user base has grown steadily, to more than 3,000 users; he has gotten financial backing; and the media — most recently, Forbes Magazine — have also taken notice. When asked what he would say to a law student thinking about starting his or her own Internet company, Stajer said, “If you have a great idea for a site, the [San Francisco] Bay Area is the best place to get it going. This place is just crawling with resources and financial backers. What better time in your life to risk everything than when you have nothing? Even if my company had failed, I will still be a lawyer.” You can find NetZero at www.netzero.com and Winecommune at www.winecommune.com. This article first appeared in Hastings Law News . Holly Pranger is a student at Hastings Law School, University of California (’01), where she is the Senior Internet Communications Editor of Comm/Ent Law Journal , serves on Hastings’ Technology Task Force, and is the founder and president of the Internet and Technology Venture Group. Holly is currently the Business Development Manager for LegalMatch.com.

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