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GARAGE DEVELOPERS IN PINSTRIPES HAN SUH'S AGENCY.COM GETS BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM TIME AND THE WEB

By Published on .

The motto that hangs on the door of Agency.com, a new World Wide Web developer, reflects the rebellious, freewheeling spirit of the company's founders: "If it sucks, don't do it."

What's astonishing is that the upstart company's headquarters aren't in a garage in Seattle, but in the buttoned-down Time & Life Building in midtown Manhattan.

That's where partners Chan Suh, 33, and Kyle Shannon, 29, are carving out their niche in cyberspace.

Even by the quick-paced standards of the digital world, Messrs. Suh and Shannon are on a fast track. While Time Inc. is not supplying cash to Agency.com, the media giant is providing other resources, including free office space, in exchange for consulting work.

The arrangement has already paid off. Agency.com developed the highly popular Web site for Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue. In its first week on the Web last month, Mr. Shannon said, the site generated 1.2 million hits. And even though video clips took as long as 15 minutes to download, about 5% of visitors to the site viewed full-motion interviews with swimsuit models.

The co-founders of Agency.com see the company's role as being a bridge to the Internet for print publishers. Said Mr. Shannon: "We're trying to take the mystery out of Web publishing."

Messrs. Suh and Shannon met, appropriately enough, about three months ago through an e-mail exchange about the bar scene sponsored by Dekuyper cordials in Vibe's Web site.

At the time, Mr. Suh was the marketing director of Vibe Online and a driving force behind the publication's Web site, one of the first to attract marketer support to the Internet. He left there in February to pursue freelance Web work and immediately began doing projects for Vibe parent Time Inc.

Mr. Shannon had already left his job as manager of image processing at ad agency YAR Communications, New York, and was working on his own Web magazine called Urban Desires.

He had also helped found the World Wide Web Artists Consortium, a 100-member group, and had been providing advice to companies trying to establish their own Web sites.

The two combined their respective talents and formally launched Agency.com about a month ago. The venture already employs eight other staffers.

In addition to Sports Illustrated, Agency.com (http://agency.com/) is working on projects with Time Inc.'s People and its corporate consumer marketing department, which oversees circulation for the company's magazines. Agency.com is also working with Modem Media, Norwalk, Conn., on the Web site for Coors Brewing Co.'s clear-malt beverage Zima.

When they're not producing Web sites, the partners are putting their energies into Urban Desires (http://desires.com/), founded and edited by Mr. Shannon and his wife, Managing Editor Gabrielle Shannon. The third issue was published last week and includes features ranging from paintings by artist Justin Love to music re- views complete with audio clips. A story on topless dancing is accompanied by still photos of a dancer.

Mr. Suh is publisher of the online magazine and is in charge of bringing in advertising and marketing support.

Urban Desires claims about 50,000 hits a day; Mr. Shannon said it was important to develop user interest in the site before approaching advertisers.

Agency.com hopes to be a leader in the movement to develop an interactive-media industry on the East Coast. Many early Web developers were based in places like Seattle and San Francisco, but New York is emerging as an additional hotbed of activity.

"Naturally, there is a personality difference" between East Coast and West Coast developers, said Mr. Suh. "The East Coast is not as focused on the technical side." Reflecting that difference, neither Mr. Suh nor Mr. Shannon has a background in technology.

Mr. Suh believes the East Coast, because of its proximity to publishers and ad agencies, will eventually overtake the West as a Web development hub.

He likens the Internet today to the Wild West and urges publishers and advertisers to start making settlements along the electronic frontier.

"There are a lot of gunslingers out there, but the farmers are going to take over," Mr. Suh said. "And those who get there first are going to get their 40 acres and a mule."

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