• Online driver's education courses may seem like a no-brainer today, but back in 1997 when Gary Tsifrin, his father Isaak and Internet guru Gary Golduber started a web-based traffic school, it was a groundbreaking concept, accompanied by a host of groundbreaking problems.

    For starters, the Department of Motor Vehicles wasn't interested in meeting with the trailblazing trio, much less approving their idea. And the technology needed to offer the type of interactive, video-rich Internet course they had in mind was still in its early stages; and skeptics doubted they could ever find a way to prevent cheating in the online setting.

    SmallBiz Snapshot
    Company DriversEd.com
    Description Online traffic school and driver's education classes
    HQ Oakland
    Founders Isaak Tsifrin, Gary Golduber and Gary Tsifrin
    2005 Revenue $3.5 million
    Founded 1997
    Employees 34
    Web site DriversEd.com

    Fast-forward nine years and the tiny startup is now a rapidly expanding $3.5 million industry leader with over 1 million registered users. Today, not only is their WebTrafficSchool.com a legal alternative to traditional traffic school in nearly all California jurisdictions, but they've also spawned several other driver's education related sites -- including DriversEd.com, which offers DMV-approved online driver's education courses, AmericaDrives.com, a site for international drivers visiting America, and Fahrschule Online, a German driver's education site.

    "We are an integrated shop that only focuses on driver's safety education," Gary Tsifrin said. "I think we do that very well."

    Though getting the company up and running smoothly hasn't been easy, each of the three founders has proved critical to the company's success. Isaak Tsifrin's track record running brick-and-mortar traffic schools made it possible to get the necessary DMV approvals for their online curriculum. Golduber's Internet expertise helped the company create cutting-edge interactive animated courses at a time when others were offering little more than online books. And Gary Tsifrin, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Cornell, perfected the course content and laced it with a series of questions that make cheating so cumbersome as to be largely impractical.

    Though WebTrafficSchool.com started as the company's core business, since DriversEd.com started in 2002 it has become the company's flagship site, drawing half a million unique visitors per month.

    "A 15-year old in 2006 would much rather do the course online than spending vacation getting up at 8 a.m. being lectured at by a (gym) teacher about driver's education," Gary Tsifrin said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that."

    You also don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that because school districts around the country are closing their in-house driver's-ed courses, there's plenty of room in the market for DMV-approved online options. To take full advantage of that opportunity, DriversEd.com has created a business model in which it partners with schools, providing them with their own driver's education web site, discounts for their students and curriculum specially tailored to fit local conditions.

    DriversEd.com already has approval by the state regulatory authority in eight states, and it recently became Santa Clara County's sole traffic school provider.

    And, while the driving school industry was slow to warm up to the concept, Hale Gammill, executive director of the Driving School Association of the Americas, says the quality of DriversEd.com's courses has slowly begun to win it over.

    "They're making tremendous inroads in bringing the industry into the 21st century," he said.

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