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Friday, July 9, 1999

Internet service allows woman to reach out to community

By ANNA L. DEROCHER

Staff Writer

Cindi Love said she felt restricted when she was working for someone else.

So it wasn’t long after taking a job with the Toro Co. that Love came up with the idea to start her third business, Ecommune. The new company was designed to build communities for commerce on the Internet.

“I was an employee for the first time in many years, and I found that challenging,” Love said. “I am not a good employee. I was successful, but I think I am a better entrepreneur. I enjoy the flexibility, and I am accustomed to setting my own schedule.”

Ecommune is one of the Internet’s creators and operators of vertical communities of commerce, often referred to as “e-communities” or “sticky portals.” These

e-communities are comprised of secured Internet sites, which support e-commerce, content and community building, Love said.

Ecommune provides a secure connection to scheduling, billing, logistics, design and other valuable information via the Internet.

Love, an Abilene native, is best known for founding C.H. Love & Co. It was sold to New Mexico Information Systems in 1990. Love said it was becoming difficult for Computerland, a division of the main company, to compete with larger companies like Best Buy and Office Max.

C.H. Love & Co. had been an INC 500 company at No. 73 in 1981. The company was also named to the Top 40 Industry Remarketers by IBM in 1990 and the Million Dollar Club by Apple Computer in 1989 and 1990. Love had also been named one of the Top 50 Entrepreneurs in the United States and Canada by INC magazine, MIT and the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization in 1991.

An advocate

Between the start of Ecommune and the end of C.H. Love & Co., Love concentrated on advocacy work that she had already been doing for some time.

Love, 44, has been the director of a privately funded Advocacy Program through the West Texas Rehabilitation Center in Abilene since 1984. She has been volunteering to help people living with physical and mental disabilities since 1977.

Growing up with a brother with a learning disability prompted her to earn a bachelor of science in speech therapy from Abilene Christian University in 1975.

When C.H. Love closed, Love decided to take a position as interim educational diagnostician for the Coahoma School District.

“Working there let me refresh a whole set of skills I hadn’t been using for a while,” Love said. “That re-lit my passion.”

In 1977, Love received a master of arts in education from Louisiana Tech University. She returned to school in 1984 to earn a doctorate in educational administration from Texas Tech.

In 1995, Love and Sue Jennings founded the Abilene Community Advocacy Program to assist families and individuals with disabilities and/or work related discrimination issues, as well as people living with HIV/AIDS.

It made perfect sense to Love to start Ecommune Inc. because it was something that would complement her advocacy work.

The job also allows her more flexibility to see her two adult children, Joshua and Amber, who live in Atlanta and Baltimore, respectively.

Love usually helps people who wouldn’t be able to come to her if she charged for her services. Currently, Love is looking into helping a man who wants to mow his lawn outside his apartment. The Toro Co. had referred him to Love.

“He is fiercely independent, but he cannot afford to pay for someone to mow the grass,” Love said. “But he cannot grip to turn the mower on.”

Love is working on getting this man a special lawnmower that would meet his needs.

“Toro doesn’t do turning-off devices,” she said. “We are trying to find someone to donate a mower and then someone to adapt it.”

But Love said the problem isn’t simple to solve. She will have to go through an adaptation specialist to make sure the lawn mower is still safe to use.

Business life

Love and Jennings co-founded Ecommune, which was originally National Support Network Central Supply. It was the supplier of proprietary computer systems to the Toro Co. for more than five years.

“Ecommune uses the Internet to link together people interested in the same thing, people who may want to buy or trade products or want to trade information,” Love said.

Through that relationship with Toro, Love was offered a job in Minneapolis as director of customer service systems. She was responsible for managing Toro’s global customer information systems and its webmaster from May 1996 to Nov. 1, 1998.

It was her good relationship with Toro that helped her start Ecommune.

“I continued that relationship when I moved back to Abilene to build another business,” Love said. “Now, they’re my client again. When I left in November 1988, I agreed they would be my first client in my new business.”

Love doesn’t think she will ever be out of work. She said the Internet is driving many businesses and she can help them reach an audience that doesn’t want to come into the store to do the shopping.

The revenue goal for fiscal year 2000 is in excess of $1 million, and with 11 clients, Love believes she is well within her goal.

“I have a very strong faith,” Love said. “When I first started in business, I would pray … ‘If (the business) was helpful, bless it, if it wasn’t, take it away.’ ”

Anna L. Derocher may be reached at (915) 676-6786 or derochera@abinews.com.

Cindi Love started Ecommune, a sevrice for secured Internet sites that support e-commerce, content and community building. Photo by Crista Jeremiason /Reporter-News

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