CHAMPAIGN – Ryan and Ashton Clark spend a lot of time churning out ideas for Web-based businesses.
In the past seven years, the 20-year-old twin brothers – both juniors at the University of Illinois – have formed more than a dozen such ventures, with products ranging from online music to sports apparel to parking-place reservations.
"Since I was very young, I've been passionate about starting something from nothing," said Ryan Clark, who's enrolled in the UI's Hoeft Technology & Management Program with his brother.
So far, the Clarks' most successful enterprise has probably been 247mixtapes.com , a site that enables access to "mix tapes," music compilations released to promote artists before their albums are in wide distribution. That site gets 55,000 to 60,000 unique users a month, Ryan Clark said.
Another popular business, started while the brothers were still in high school, is Ludakicks.com . Ryan Clark described it as a footwear and apparel "superstore" with 50,000 products available. It's an "affiliate transfer" Web site for shoebuy.com , Ashton Clark said.
The brothers also launched AlphaPMS.com , which promotes the AlphaPMS project management system, and they have two other Web-based ventures in the pipeline.
One is Weparkchicago.com , where customers eventually will be able to go online to book spaces in Chicago parking garages and parking lots. Another is UTicketIt.com , which would enable students to buy and sell tickets for campus events, such as fraternity and sorority parties.
Ryan Clark said he and Ashton started Ludakicks when they were about 16. It had an 800 phone number so customers could chat in real time with staff members, he said.
When the brothers decided to come to the UI from Flossmoor, they changed the structure of Ludakicks because it took 10 to 12 hours a day to run the Web site, he said.
"Coming in as freshmen, we decided we needed to focus on school," he said.
Still, operating the businesses requires a juggling act.
"It takes a lot of time management skills," Ryan Clark said.
"If one of the Web sites is down, we're notified by text message or phone calls. We step out, fix the issue, then come back. We pretty much just do what needs to be done, no matter what it is."
Today the business is just the two brothers, along with Web designers and programmers who do contract work for them.
Rhiannon Clifton, assistant director of the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center, said she's seen several students with one or two Web-based businesses, but never as many ventures as the Clarks have.
"It seems they have a new idea they execute every few months," she said. "The sites certainly keep them busy. One of these days they'll have a major hit."
Ashton Clark said both brothers come up with business ideas, with Ryan dreaming up AlphaPMS and Ashton originating the ticketing system idea.
Ryan tends to handle marketing, online collaborations and partnerships with other companies, Ashton Clark said. Meanwhile, he concentrates on adding new features to the Web sites, automating them and making them more user-friendly.
"Most of the money we've made has really gone to creating other Web sites," Ashton Clark said.
"We've made money, but we've reinvested it. We're not multimillionaires or the richest students you'll see. We've done a little bit better than breaking even."
Both brothers say they'd like to be executives of a Fortune 500 company someday, if not executives of their own companies.
But Ryan Clark said the brothers are in business not just for money or experience, but also to inspire others.
"What I'm doing is not only possible for me but for you as well," he said, adding he's a big believer in entrepreneurship.
In February, he's scheduled to receive the Student Leadership Award at the Black Engineer of the Year awards conference in Baltimore.
Ryan Clark is student Webmaster for the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center and president of the Minority Leadership Group, which has 45 to 60 members on campus.
He's also vice president of technology for the UI's undergraduate chapter of the National Black MBA Association.
Meanwhile, Ashton Clark is president of the National Black MBA Association chapter and Webmaster for the UI's African-American Cultural Center.
Ryan Clark said some people think Web-based businesses won't work because they'll get lost among the many sites on the Internet.
"That's not true," he said. "There are so many people on the Internet in total. You could become as big as any other Web site with the right timing and decisions being made."
The trick, he said, is focusing on an idea and bringing it to life.
"It takes a strong-willed person with a direct focus. You have to multi-task and manage your time wisely. If you know what you're doing on a day-by-day basis, it makes it a lot easier," he said.
Ashton Clark said he's been asked, "Why are you guys in college if you have successful companies?"
"You need something to fall back on," he said. "Knowledge is something no one can take away from you."