Post Business Magazine - April, 2000
Debbie Hoffman is a truck-drivin'
daughter-of-a-gun out of Haines City, Fla., byway of Romeo, Mich. Last
December, the 49-year-old Hoffman, who has been limiting her personal
haulage to 75,000 miles a year since becoming a grandmother for the sixth
time, decided that she needed a presence on the Internet in order to expand
her business. If she went into e-trucking, she reasoned, she could hire
drivers and match clients to the appropriate vehicles in her fleet — drop-deck
stretches, double-drop stretches, flatbed stretches, etc. — without having
to spend any more nights than necessary behind the wheel, away from home.
That would be a nice break after almost 30 years of lowing rigs as long
as a city block and as wide as a salesman's smile.
It was not a new dream.
Hoffman had been trying for more than two years to find the right person
to design an action-packed, attention-grabbing ho me page for Double D
Truck Specialties, which is one of the few female-owned companies of its
kind in North America. But she still had not settled on a webmaster, "So
I would cruise the Net, looking for people who had won awards," she
says .on the phone from Haines City", an inland town., due south
from Disney World. "I saw this name, Keith something-or-other, up
in Canada. And he had won all these awards and stuff. So I called him
"That day:, I told
eveiybody about who I had called and they kept asking me, 'Has he called
back yet? Has he called back yet?' And I said, 'Don't worry — he'll call
back, as soon as he gets home from school."
At three minutes to seven on a snow-white Saturday morning, the webrnaster
takes to the ice. He is in the uniform of the Scotiabank team of the Red
Circle Club minor hockey league of London, Ont., wearing white sweater
number 33, in honour of Patrick Roy, the NHL nonpareil. The webmatter,
Keith Peiris, who was born on February 27, 1988, during his hero's third
season with the Montreal Canadiens, is a left-handed goalie, a rare subspecies
of the breed., It was clear from the boys earliest years, when he would
fill notebook after notebook with excruciatingly detailed pencil sketches
of Curtis Joseph, Arturs lrbe and other millionaire rubber-stoppers, that
he would choose the same position for himself. And he did.
After a goalless 15 minutes, in which he makes 10 superb saves with his
stick, glove and pads – the first one only seven seconds into the game
– the boy surrenders a power-play goal to the Fanshawe Optimists. But
Scotiabank soon equalizes, and the match seesaws from there into its final
frantic episode, tied at three goals each.
Each time the puck goes
down to the other end of the rink, Keith Peiris rises from his crouch
and skates from side to side in his crease, as fidgety as a ferret, tapping
the goalposts with his gloves, sweeping the scrapings with his big, wide
stick. Such are the rituals of the major-leaguers, down-loaded from Hockey
Night in Canada, then programmed into the receptive
souls of our tykes and atoms and mites.
With five minutes gone
in the third period, the Scotiabank defence gives the puck away and Keith
Peiris is beaten cleanly, high on the glove side, by a wrist shot from
20 feet out. So it's four to three for the Optimists.
Now an Optimist player
has been slightly injured and is lying in the near corner, attended by
his coach. This eats up two-and-a-half minutes of Scotiabank's chances
at a comeback. (The clock runs continually in house-league hockey, since
two more teams must take the ice at eight.) Eventually, the casualty rises
and skates off, and his teammates and opponents
pummel the boards with their sticks and gloves in hockey's customary
salute to the valorous.
Some of the players' parents
and supporters are shivering and shouting in the bleachers of Stronach
Arena in northeast London. The less hardy remain in the well-heated foyer
behind the south goal. Keiths father, Deepal Peiris, is here, a round-faced,
voluble, chipper man in a baseball cap and a wool-and-leather jacket with
the IBM logo. "I quit my iob on January the fourth," Peiris
suddenly announces, as the seconds tick away. (It was the week the London
Free Press published two full pages, including several enormous photographs
of Keith in a Team Canada hockey sweater, on the prodigy and his family.).
He had been working as the sales and marketing manager at Coral Technologies
in London. But now the father had decided to take a hiatus. “I am going
to go to Fanshawe College and hire two or three employees,” he says. “Keith’s
business is growing, and we need more workers. I have had an idea. If
I find the right people, I am going to offer them shares!”
When Deepal Peiris was
turning 12, he lived a mile and half from the Indian Ocean, in the doomed
paradise of Sri Lanka. “My life was cricket,” he says of a time when there
still was no suggestion that the immemorial enmity and jealousy between
Tamils and Sinhalese would explode—as it did in 1983—into one of the world’s
longest and most horrid civil wars. Deepal’s father was a well-known journalist
for the Ceylon Daily News, but the rabid political controversies
that were the father's meat did not intrude on the boy’s reverie.
A decade later, Deepal
was working as a laboratory assistant in Colombo when he met a charming
and brilliant young chemist named Sriya, the daughter of a rice farmer,
who was advancing toward her doctoral degree with a thesis describing
the usefulness of compounds of carbon-13 and tellurium-125 in Nuclear
Magnetic Resonance. They married — by their own choice, not parental arrangement,
as had been the case with some of their siblings —and Sriya’s studies
led her to Concordia University in Montreal. In 1981, Deepal joined her
in Canada. While the wife studied, the husband fried hamburgers at Harvey's
and delivered pizzas.
The hockey game is nearly
over as he relates this pilgrim’s progress. Then, at the far end of the
arena, there is a scramble) a shout, sticks are raised and our goalie
springs from his crease, arms pumping. Scotia.bank has tied it
Then the Optimists come
back down the ice. With nine seconds to play, the Optimists have the puck
at the lip of the Scotiabank crease and are whaling away at it like lumberjacks.
Suddenly, it corner free, and Keith makes a desperate, head-first dive,
reaches out his
glove and smothers it.
Great save. Tie game.
repairs to the Huron House Restaurant for a postgame breakfast of orange
juice, home fries and ketchup. His father, meanwhile, hands me a folio
of newspaper and magazine clippings, Internet printouts, testimonials,
and press releases bearing the crimson, silver and navy emblem of Cyberteks
Design —"Your Partner in Cyberspace" — the company of which
his only child, despite his tender years, is president and CEO.
The boys resume
fills three pages, small type, single-spaced. It is weighty with awards
and commendations, nominations and references) and media coverage citations
from here to Halifax.
"Little web designer
making big waves," one headline reads.
December 16, 1999,
London, Ontario – An 11-year-old web designer, Keith Peiris, President
& CEO of Cyberteks Design, is nominated for five website awards at
the Southby Southwest Interactive Festival….
1999, London, Ontario, Canada— 11-year-old web designer, Keith
Peiris, president and CEO ofCyberteks Design, has reached the semi-finals
of the YTV Achievement Award (Business)…
1999, London, Ontario, Canada— ll-year-old web designer, Keith
Peiris, president and CEO of Cyberteks Design is nominated to the Millennium
Dreamers Award (Age 8-11 category….
1999, London, Ontario, Canada — I I-y-ear-old web designer attracts
customers from USA—Keith Peiris, president and CEO of Cyberteks Design
has already got two customers from USA…
"One day, he came
home from school at four-thirty, and there was a reporter waiting for
him," Deepal says. "At six o'clock, he went to do an interview
at the University of Western Ontario radio station. Later that same evening,
he was honoured at a school board meeting. "I asked him, Is it too
much?' And he said, I love it, Daddy.”
The World Headquariers
of Cyberteks Design is the basement of a town house in the southern suburbs
of London. The lefthanded goalie has showered and dressed, and now he
is wearing cargo pants and a red Nike T-shirt, barefoot and full of fun.
"He doesn't learn
much in school, but he must go for social skills and other stuff,"
his father is saying.
"So I’m wasting eight
hours for social skills” the son retorts, enjoying the banter.
“You don’t have to learn to spell, because there’s Spellcheck. You don’t
have to learn match, because there’s calculators. Who needs school?”.
We’re sitting at one of
his four computers, which is a 20.6-gigabyte monster with a ViewSonic
monitor, a 450-megahertz Pentium III processor, a 40X CD-ROM drive and
a Logitech mouse that the boy wields with daunting alacrity, clicking
from one website to another as insatiably and restlessly as he prowls
the Scotiabank crease.
“In 1981,” Keith says,
“Bill Gates had a quote that said, ‘Six hundred kilobytes should be enough
for everyone.” At this, he laughs. These days, 600 kiolbytes won’t run
a respectable wristwatch.
The webmaster has installed
a counter that tracks how many hits his home page takes each day. It’s
only 11.30 in the morning, it’s the weekend, and already 272 people have
found the time and a reason to go to www.cyberteks.net.
We study the contacts by time zone and country: Latvia, Hong Kong, Argentina,
Austria, Singapore, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Japan. It’s still early;
California has yet to awaken. The site is averaging more than a thousand
hits a day.
“I’m impressed that this
amount of people come to my website,” Keith says. “Ofcourse, eventually,
everybody comes to your website.”
The CEO swivels around
to look me in the eye. “I’m sure you know what pixels are,” he says. “Of
course,” I deftly lie.
We’re going on a guided
tour of the Double D Truck Specialties website that Keith designed for
Debbie Hoffman. It is, importantly, a Flash site, meaning that Keith has
employed a software package, developed by a California company called
Macromedia Inc., that combines sound and high intensity moving graphics
into pages that are dynamic and appealing to the viewer, but still relatively
quick to download and view. “She needed a website and saw us on Macromedia
and sent us an e-mail,” Keith relates. “So we called her and asked her
how much she wanted to spend. In that contract, my dad didn’t get involved
“How did you know how
much to charge her?” I ask him.
“I’ve gotten quotes from
lots of Web design companies. I try to stay in the middle.”
We go to www.doubledtrucks.com
and are asked whether we want to jump on to the Flash version, or to plod
along like pack mules with the prehistoric, 20th-century text
frames. “She had a logo, but I redesigned it,” Keith says. He’s come up
with a pair of capital D’s in a crescent, a nice coppery shade, and as
we navigate around the page, the logo flies off and colourful hexagon
appear, moving to a techno-pop sound track and the roar of mighty engines
starting up. We look at Hoffman’s biography and her range of transport
services, and I note her telephone number before the boy’s attention span
expires, which takes about four seconds.
The Macromedia connection
is central to Keith’s design process, and to his status as a tyro cynosure.
A year ago, the youth was a bright but not yet celebrated Web-dabbler
when he came across a free trial version of Flash, downloaded it and began
to experiment, borrowing graphics he liked from other sites and making
them throb and sing. He liked it so well that his father bought the whole
package, which costs US$299.
As it turned out, the
chairman of Macromedia, a University of Western Ontario grad named Rob
Burgess, was to deliver a talk at a computer industry gathering in Toronto.
Deepal ordered two tickets, then noticed that admission was restricted
to acolytes 18 and over. When he sent an e-mail of mild protest to Macromedia,
alerting them to the fact that there was an 11-year-old in Canada mastering
Flash, the result was a VIP invitation to the conference.
Then came the moment that
has become the Peiris family’s equivalent of young Bill Clinton in the
Rose Garden with JFK.
Burgess called Keith to
the stage and introduced him as one of the younger Flash users on the
planet. A photograph was taken that showed the two vituosos shaking hands,
Burgess in black jeans and a bright red sport shirt, Keith in a dark suit
and tie. A Cyberteks press release was issued: June 4, 1999 – California
based Macromedia Inc. Chairman and CEO, Robert Burgess, introduced Keith
Peiris to the audience at keynote speech at the NewMedia ’99 Conference
and Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Canada. On the
worldwide Web, Cyberteks has been added to the Macromedia Flash Gallery
Collection, a listing of a dozen major companies whose sites employ the
firm’s software. Among the others on the same page are CNN, Kodak, Cisco
Systems and MSNBC. It is the link from the Gallery Collection that brings
nearly all of each day’s hits from Latvia and elsewhere to the World Headquarters
of Cyberteks Design.
“Why do you think Burgess
did that?” I wonder in the basement in London.
“What he’s trying to show,”
Keith answers, “is that if I can use Flash, any ---pardon my language—idiot
can use it.”
“He’s never read the manual?
I’m with instructor Bob
Parlee of the Canadian Business College, whose motto is: “There are no
limits to where your talent can take you.” Mr. Parlee, who teaches Macromedia
Flash to young people seeking a toehold in tomorrow, is sitting
at a PowerMac 180 in a classroom in Toronto, downloading the Cyberteks
Design home page. Heads are turning all round, and it is not because of
my Ermengildo Zegna tie. It’s the music pumping out of Keith’s Flash site.
“Very Trancy,” one student
observes sagely. “Very House.”
“The kid’s good,” Parlee
says. “The kid’s really good. There’s nothing that really jumps out at
you as spectacular, where you’d say, ‘Holy shit!” He has elegance. He
has a simple elegance to his design.”
More pulsating music;
then, as we navigate over to Debbie Hoffman’s Double D Trucks, rapid-fire
images of giant rigs and the roar of engine starting.
“I love the way he does
these little things,” Parlee says. “This kid’s got a future. Forget the
future—people are going to want this kid, now. He’ll make a whole lot
more money than I’ll ever think of making.” Deepal Peiris reports that
Keith has earned about $ 15,000 so far from his Web based endeavours.
(A child on a $ 5 weekly allowance will need 58 years to catch up.)
This does not include the multi-layered, bilingual, richly informative
site Keith designed for the Canada Wide Science Fair to be held in London
this spring. This job was gratis, an investment in name recognition and
corporate good will. “Flash isn’t a difficult program to learn,” Parlee
says, tapping his head. “You can learn basics in two days. But what you
do with it is all up here.”
He hands me an introductory
folder from Macromedia that lists the skills a student would be expected
to have mastered after only two days in the classroom. There are 54 items
in the list, including; how to use the Polygon Lasso and Magic Wand to
make a selection; how to create a Shape Tween; how to use the Scene Inspector;
how to add sound to a button; how to stream sound; and how to use Drag
Movie Clip for extra interactivity.
“He may be good now,”
I tell the awestruck instructor. “But soon he’ll discover girls.”
“Yeah,” Parlee sighs.
We are up in the living
room now, with two parents and I, out of the boy’s hearing. “How old was
he when you realized he was smarter than you?” I tease them. “About four,”
Sriya Peiris replies. “But he has changed his mind lots of times. First,
he wanted to be a NASCAR race driver. Then a hockey player. Now computers.”
“Most people buy computers
and they are afraid of them,” Deepal says. “They think they will
damage father’s, mother’s, or somebody else’s work.”
“I am a little bit scared,”
his wife agrees. “I think if I press the wrong button, it will break.”
“When he was very small,
I bought him computer and said, “Don’t be afraid to break it,” says the
father. “He does it all by himself, trial and error. He doesn’t look at
manuals. He doesn’t call anybody. He just tries it.”
“How have his friends
reacted to his fame?” I ask.
“Some kids don’t like
him,” Deepal says. “I ask them why and they say, “Keith wants to be Number
One, that’s why we don’t like him.”
“Before the publicity,
he was the most popular kid in his class,” Sriya notes. “But when it all
started coming out, the others started saying, “You do everything perfectly.
We don’t want to be your friend.” A few boys come around to play Pokemon
games, and there is the hockey, of course, every Saturday and Sunday at
dawn. But still, the mother seems a little distressed. “Iwant him to be
a kid, too,” she says. “I want him to have friends.”
“If he has money, he’ll
have lots of friends,” her husband declares.
While I’m upstairs talking
to the parents, a prospective client comes to call. Allan Pike is a ReMax
real estate agent in London. He needs a Web presence; he has heard about
Keith from a friend, and the last voice I hear as he heads down the carpeted
stairs is Pike, saying to the child, “So, you’re a whiz at computers,
“What was it like, talking
business with an 11-year-old boy?” I ask Allan Pike, a few days later.
“It was weird,” he replies. “It was extremely—intimidating is not the
word—it was awkward, weird, different. It’s just a personal hurdle I have
to get over.” By coincidence, Mr.Pike’s 10-year-old son, Jeffrey, is Keith’s
teammate on the Scotiabank hockey club in the Red Circle league. But that
is not what led the father to Cyberteks Design. “I have a fellow who fixes
my computer whenever it crashes,” Mr.Pike says, “and he recommended I
speak to this particular young man about a website. I didn’t know anything
else about him ---didn’t know how old he was, didn’t know he was on my
son’s hockey team, never made the connection. I had no idea. It was a
total shock. What he’s doing on a computer, I could never do, but there’s
a lot of things I can’t do on a computer. I’m not really that great at
computers. I can only go by what other fellows tell me.”
“Would you want Jeffrey
to be running a company at this age? I ask.
“He can have a hobby or
a small business on the side,” Pike replies. “But I don’t know if I’d
want him to be a CEO at age eleven. I want him to be a kid.”
“Why does a trucking company
need a website? I ask Hoffman.
“Because who picks up
the Yellow Pages anymore? She replies. When Hoffman’s own children were
Keith Peiris’ age, she had an arrangement with the school board in Romeo,
Michigan, that permitted each of them, in turn, to leave for six or eight
weeks to ride with Mama on the road. Raymond, the oldest, had been born
when Mama was fifteen. To no one’s surprise, he and his two sisters all
grew up to be truck drivers. Now Debbie Hoffman has an 11-year-old granddaughter
named Tonya. “I said, ‘Lookit, Tonya---this website was designed by a
boy the same age as you,” the grandmother tells me. “Can’t you do something
like this? You know what she said? She said, ‘Grandma! I’m only eleven
years old! Give me time, Grandma, Give me time.”