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Tech firm's ready for something big

Steadily growing Share Tech Inc. seeks investors

Four years after they founded it, Tom and Lara Knackstedt say Share Tech Inc. and its Web site, , are ready for takeoff.

The Medford couple has guided and molded its software distribution company, shifting business models several times in hopes of catching a ride in the booming world of cyberspace.


— —

Company name

: Share Tech Inc.


: Online software — distributor

Web site

: www.rocketdownload.com


: Tom and Lara Knackstedt

No. of employees

: 7


: The 4-year-old technology — company is working to increase traffic on its Web site and become the — next dot-com success story — —

Rocket download could be so much bigger with an influx of cash, says Tom Knackstedt.

So add Share Tech -- which isn't expected to turn a profit until 2002 -- to the list of young technology companies popping up nationwide that are hoping and waiting to be purchased or taken public.

For the past four years, the company has been in what Knackstedt playfully calls business development.

Knackstedt, 35, and his 29-year-old wife met while both were attending Southern Oregon University. He later worked for Reasonable Solutions, a Medford company that was once the world's largest distributor of shareware -- programs that are initially free but expire or automatically disable themselves after a set amount of time unless the user registers it and pays a fee.

When that company was sold and moved to Arizona in 1995, he and his wife -- with financial help from his family and a trust fund -- opened Share Tech and began distributing shareware through catalogs.

Share Tech shifted online a year later as the Internet rose to prominence. Now it offers free downloads at www.rocketdownload.com of freeware, shareware and commercial demonstration programs and sells some software over the Web.

Traffic on the site -- the key to success or failure for Web-based businesses -- has grown steadily, and the company expects to get 6 million visitors this year. The company has grown to seven employees who are housed in a spacious but sparse office on Disk Drive in the industrial area off Sage Road.

The company's mainstay always has been shareware and freeware (programs given to users at no cost). Share Tech doesn't produce the software. It gathers it from authors who want exposure and sorts through it, putting only the best programs on the site and reviewing the programs so users know what they are getting and how to use what they download.

There are so many programs out there, says Knackstedt. It's so easy to get one that doesn't work. We're the eyes for the users. We're the site to come to for easy-to-use downloads.

Nick Smith, the company's review writer, says the site has built up a loyal following through its screening process. There are hordes of programs available on the Web, but Share Tech's site only features about 4,200 titles in order to cut through the clutter for users.

Considering that we don't have a big marketing budget and don't do well on the search engines, we get good traffic, he says. ``I think a lot of traffic comes from word of mouth.

Though it may be popular, the providing of shareware and freeware isn't particularly profitable in and of itself. The company's main source of revenue comes through advertising on its site.

In the past year, the company has experimented with new ways to generate income. It has formed alliances with other sites and programs to draw more visitors and attract more attention.

It also has launched an online software store. This summer, it started a bidding system that allows users to name a price for software that the company considers and responds to. It also allows the user to ask questions about the software.

Lara Knackstedt says the company was trying to respond to users' wants.

A lot of people say they miss the personal contact of talking to a sales person, she says. Internet buyers tend to be very price sensitive, she says, and this would give them more control.

So far, the idea hasn't taken off. Bids have been too low for serious consideration and the service hasn't generated the response the company hoped for.

But the Knackstedts are determined to keep trying new things, to keep shifting the model to increase the number of eyeballs that reach the site -- because that's what potential investors will be looking for.

Says Tom Knackstedt, We have to keep evolving.

At least until the right eyeballs take notice.

Tom and Lara Knackstedt, owners of Share Tech Inc. are ready for an influx of investment or public interest. - Photo by Steve Johnson