Entrepreneur builds company dedicated to helping businesses do business online

Mark Cenicola pursued his dream of being an entrepreneur faster than a sprinter off the starting blocks. He quit his first job after college and set up a private company with two friends.

Eight years later, Cenicola-Helvin Enterprises is helping clients around the globe establish e-commerce and back-office operations online. The company employs 13 people in a 2,500-square-foot office equipped with computer servers and a natural-gas fired generator that ensures his customers’ Web sites operate without interruption even during an electrical blackout.

Clients range from dog hotels to large casino chains and public companies.

Cenicola is a Las Vegas native and met several people in elementary school who would later affect his career. At Warren Elementary he met Joseph Stanley, now his company’s chief technology officer. At Booker Elementary he met Jeff Helvin, now his company’s vice president.

Question: What does your company do?

Answer: We help other businesses do business on the Internet. BannerView.com is our brand name for Cenicola-Helvin Enterprises.

We do anything from Web site development to e-commerce systems and marketing software. We also host and maintain companies’ Web sites. We also run a network site for our own Web properties, which range from technology news to free online classifieds.

Question: Could you give me an example of what you do?

Answer: Say a company needs a new (home page) for a Web site. Not only can we design that new face for them, but we can enable them to sell their product online. We can build an Internet application that lets stores share data. It doesn’t matter if they are on a Mac, a PC, an iPhone; managers have access to the data around the world.

Question: After getting an associate’s degree in computer systems information, what did you do?

Answer: I got a job as a network engineer for a subcontractor helping the city of North Las Vegas. The subcontractor bounced a payroll check, so I resigned from that company, and that’s when I started at (Cenicola-Helvin) full time.

We started with $44,000. But that doesn’t include the two years I worked for free.

Question: What did you do at the beginning?

Answer: We did our own Web site, YardsaleNet.net, a free online classifieds site. We said maybe we can use the technology we put into that system and build systems for other companies.

Question: Who was your first big customer?

Answer: YouNameItCatering. com, because Jeff’s sister ran that company. We designed two sites for them.

Question: It seems that specialized retailers and catalog retailers are using the Internet effectively for sales?

Answer: Yes. A lot of them are moving their operations slowly online. When they make a sale online, it’s much more profitable than if they sell in a store or through a catalog. Sometimes, clients build a community around (the retail Web site). So if people like golf, then they build a community around golf equipment. If you can build a community around what you’re selling, you’re going to have more loyal customers and you’re going to have more repeat customers.

Question: Do retired clients start these specialized Web site businesses?

Answer: Absolutely. They need something to do. That’s a great business for them. They can slowly grow the business. If you are retired and it becomes too big, you’re probably going to sell it, because then it becomes a job.

Question: Where is e-commerce going? Are we getting fewer and fewer brick-and-mortar retailers?

Answer: No. More brick-and-mortar businesses are leveraging with the Internet to supplement their business. We’re getting very few brand-new Internet businesses.

Let’s say you have a store across the street. After we set up a Web site for you, you have an ongoing expense (for the Web site) of as little as $40 a month.

Question: What is the basic startup cost of a Web site?

Answer: If you want to establish a store online, a good budget, with the design of the site, with the e-commerce, with some promotion for search engines, is around $5,000.

Question: What is the other big category?

Answer: Custom online databases. That’s a catchall for all of those back-office operations. I won’t name it, but there’s a publication that is using our content management system to manage articles online.

Our system allows the publication to guarantee to advertisers the number of page views (on a screen with the advertiser’s ad). Usually, in the advertising business, (ads) are sold per thousand impressions.

The publication could lie. But, if the advertiser is paranoid, they could come to us and we would develop a system to see how many times their advertisement was viewed. We have everything from casinos to dog and pet hotels.

Question: What types of services do casinos want?

Answer: For Jerry’s Nugget, we do their entire Web site. There’s other casinos that have huge internal (information technology) departments, but (department managers) come to us, because their information technology departments are so busy.

About 75 percent of our customers are in Nevada. We acquired datacities.com of Florida in November. As a result, we provide the technology for other Web hosting companies to run their businesses.

Question: Where do you want to take Cenicola-Helvin from here?

Answer: I want to take this company public under our terms. We’ve been profitable. 2007 was our first year in four years that we weren’t profitable because there’s a lot of (expense) amortization of a lot of equipment.

Question: Why do you want to go public and what do you want to use that money for?

Answer: I’ve wanted to use the stock as a tool for acquisitions and growth. It gives the company credibility. I tell all my employees my goal is to make them a millionaire. Taking the company public is really the only way to do that.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at jedwards@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0420.

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