Strolling down Ninth Street, you will find shops, restaurants and even a tattoo parlor. But look a little harder, and you can find the home of Reactive Search, an Internet startup company set out to revolutionize online shopping.
Reactive Search's location across the street from Elmo's is not its only close connection to Duke-two Fuqua alumni and a group of student interns are the driving force behind the company.
Anthony Faulise, chairman of the board, and Steve Burnham, director of marketing, first started Reactive Search in 1997 as MBA students at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. What started as a class assignment turned into an idea for a new way to shop on the Internet, allowing users to search a business' website even if they have trouble describing the product.
"We are revolutionizing the way in which search databases are used to perform the catalogue navigation needed for an effective search," said sophomore intern Mike Sullivan.
The product is based on Search Like I Think software, which helps an online consumer search for similar products, use analogies to search and will hopefully lessen the current 65 percent of consumers who never follow through with their Internet purchases.
Last month Reactive Search went live with Rugwarehouses.com and will be adding their software to the websites of other Beta partners like Egarden.com. As Beta partners, businesses get the software for free in exchange for acting as the product's test ground.
Interns like Sullivan form the foundation of the company. Rather than working at the company and performing minor tasks, interns actually work directly with the computer programs comprise Reactive Search's software.
"No copying and filing here, you'll be shaping our product on your first day," said Burnham. "There are no layers of organizational bureaucracy here."
Aside from being influential in the company's software design, students are also partial owners of the company, receiving 20 stock options for every hour they work instead of cash. Eventually, an intern can earn up to 3,600 stock options, said Sullivan, which they can profit from if the company goes public, or exercise for 50 cents a share now.
But interns at the company hail the learning environment at Reactive Search even more than they do their ownership in it. Interns are paired up with appropriate teams in the company based on their programming experience and talents, and students highlight the relationships they form with their employers.
"The personal attention is amazing," said sophomore Charlene Chen. "Every now and then, the president checks on me, asking if my experience is satisfactory, and if there's anything that they can do for me." Even better than that, she says, are the benefits of the fun working environment-the office has a popcorn maker, toy dart guns, and lava lamps.
In addition, business-minded people like Kenneth Davis, a second-year Fuqua student, gain the opportunity to see how a company forms and grows.
"My favorite part of the internship is the unstructured learning environment. As a business student, I'm learning what books don't teach. I get to quiz the management on why they made certain choices, how they developed strategic alliances, et cetera," said Davis.
Burnham adds that Reactive Search is not just training future computer programmers but leaders in e-commerce. "You'll be researching e-commerce software companies to size-up the competition and to keep our finger on the pulse of our market space. By the end of your engagement with us, you'll be an expert on the exploding e-commerce landscape," he said.
Some interns are already seeing the plus side of Reactive Search's training.
"Somehow I managed to make it to the second round of interviews for a summer internship with Microsoft. I don't think they would have even considered interviewing me in the first place had it not been for the Reactive Search experience listed on my resume," said Chen.
And Sullivan notes the benefits Reactive Search may bring in the future, whether it be job placement, or the chance to own stock in a premiere e-commerce company.
Whatever the future holds for Reactive Search, the strides the company has already made are a source of pride for its interns.
"Reactive is especially dear to me because I have watched it grow tremendously over the last six months," said Chen. "We used to be able to have company lunches at one booth at Elmo's. our Christmas party required a long banquet table at George's."
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