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Fast Track

Fasttrack/garcia/26″/LK1st/mark2nd By SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Roger S. Bloxberg and Todd J. Helfstein were just neophytes in the software business when they noticed something intriguing. The pair had developed a line of software tools to help people write business letters and other standard types of correspondence, and the package included a dictionary of quotations. They found that when they promoted the software package with the phrase “8,000 quotations for everyday life,” sales improved considerably. It was a lesson in the importance of separating yourself from the pack. And the two have been doing it ever since. Armed with that insight, the partners set their sights on providing clip art software, developing the first of what was to become the core business of Calabasas-based Nova Development Corp. “Art Explosion 40,000.” Within several years, Nova had developed a series of clip-art titles, each featuring larger and larger libraries of images and each drawing more sales than the previous version. Since its first clip-art software launched in 1995, company sales have grown nearly six-fold, $13 million in 1998, which earned it the No. 2 spot on the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s 1999 list of the “Fastest Growing Private Companies.” Nova’s history actually dates back to 1984, when the two partners, political science students at UCLA, got an internship at Ashton-Tate, a now-defunct software publisher. “If these dorks can be doing this, we can too,” Bloxberg recalls thinking. He and Helfstein, who have been friends since the sixth grade, each invested $700 to develop an educational-testing software package that enabled teachers and school administrators to analyze class test scores. The software received an enthusiastic response. After that, attending college became more like an errand. Indeed, it took Helfstein nine years and Bloxberg 10 years to graduate. But the pair soon tired of selling to schools and turned their attention to the retail channel of distribution with a writing tools package. Moving into graphics software was a natural extension of that business, they said. “It’s the whole idea that we’re helping people express themselves on the computer,” Helfstein said. “We don’t know what business you are in, but we’re going to give you enough tools.” Art Explosion 40,000 was Nova’s first big success. At the time, the largest clip-art library available was a collection of 10,000 images that retailed for $100. Nova’s package, by contrast, had four times the number of images and retailed for just $49.95. The software quickly found a following among small-business users interested in developing their own letterhead, business cards, newsletters and other communications. The success did not go unnoticed by competitors, which began releasing ever-larger clip art libraries and forced Nova to keep up. “This has been a struggle for a long time,” Bloxberg said. “We know there’s something to this number thing, but we refused to put the Nova name on anything that’s less than a top-quality product.” The company’s pockets were not nearly as deep as some of its competitors, but it did have one advantage. Nova’s small size made it nimble, and it could wait for its publicly held competitors to announce their plans and quickly respond within the same selling season. A year after the release of Explosion 40,000, Nova introduced Art Explosion 125,000, followed in 1997 by Art Explosion 250,000 and, last December, Art Explosion 600,000, a package that includes, among other things, illustrations of most of the Shakespeare characters and scenes from the Bible such as the 10 plagues and the parable of the prodigal son. In the meantime, Nova began to expand its offerings outside the clip-art category. In 1996, the company introduced Web 20,000, a software program of Web-site art, and followed up the next year with Web Animation Explosion, a package of 5,000 animated sequences for Web sites. For the 1998 holiday selling season, Nova added Art Explosion Seasons, Events & Holidays, a package of 15,000 images for designing communications and decorations for holidays like Halloween or birthdays and anniversaries. Nova now ranks No. 2 in the clip-art business, with a 9.9 percent share of dollar sales and a 17.7 percent share of unit sales in 1998, according to PC Data, a market research firm that tracks software and hardware sales. The company’s newest title, Seasons, Events & Holidays, ranked No. 1 for the 1998 holiday season, with sales of 32,276 units. But the business is fickle, said Ann Stephens, president of PC Data. “It’s not an easy market right now just because there’s an overabundance of product,” Stephens said. “They have to be clever and make good decisions.” To cement its position, Nova has moved to expand its offerings into new areas where it can leverage the customer base it has already developed. Last October, the company introduced its first utility program, software that can execute design tasks besides offering a library of images. The software, Art Explosion T-Shirt Factory, allows users to create personalized shirts, hats, tote bags and other items, either by using a library of artwork included with the software or personal photos or drawings. “It’s not the T-shirt per se, it’s the intention of publishing graphics utilities that’s important,” Bloxberg said. The partners are hoping to capitalize on their existing market of clip-art users by designing programs made to interface specifically with that software. And, like the early history with clip art, Bloxberg and Helfstein believe that the competition can also present an opportunity. “We’ve got hundreds of thousands of Art Explosion users that don’t like the programs they’ve been using,” Bloxberg said. Nova Development Corp. Year Founded: 1984 Revenues in 1994: $600,000 Revenues in 1998: $13 million Employees in 1994: 5 Employees in 1998: 44 Top Executives: Roger S. Bloxberg, chief executive; Todd J. Helstein, president Goal: To become the leading developer and publisher of graphics and creativity programs under $200 worldwide Driving Force: The advent of desktop publishing and the Internet has changed the world forever. Businesses and consumers are demanding more sophisticated tools.

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