Second Careers
Not Your Average
  Game Show Host
Straddling Artistic





Adam Epstein '95 used to hear from his parents, who are both lawyers, "Go to law school, but don't be a lawyer." So, after completing law school at the University of Michigan in 1998, Epstein worked in the field for two years, first at a New York law firm and then for a Michigan judge, before leaving law to become an entrepreneur.

Epstein had known for a long time that he might want to become a business owner. His great-grandparents and grandparents had their own businesses, and he had tried various ventures while growing up and in school, such as a dog-washing service and selling parking spaces at football games.

Leaving behind steady paychecks and a measure of prestige, Epstein founded Alternacast, an Internet broadcasting company whose centerpiece is a Web site where sports fans pay to broadcast a game or their own talk show. He has taken on debt and works in downtown New York out of an office that is essentially a cubicle with a door, but Epstein embraces the new-millennium, start-up lifestyle. "This is a little more on the edge," than his former career, he admits. "But now I wake up in the morning and I can't wait to get here, and I go to bed at night thinking about the business and how I can improve it."

When people hear about the Web site, Fancast, they often assume that Epstein is fulfilling a childhood fantasy of being a sportscaster. Epstein says that's not true. He did always enjoy watching sports, and after working at Spectator as sports editor, he thought he might want to do something media and sports-related. But the specific idea for Fancast didn't come to him until he was clerking in Michigan and returned to New York to visit friends. Epstein had been watching sports on television solo in his apartment in Kalamazoo and hadn't realized until he was amongst his buddies again what had been missing. "It was the banter among these guys," he says. "It was the community feeling."

Epstein had the idea to use the Internet to connect fans. When his clerkship ended, he returned to New York and started working on Alternacast full-time. Fancast launched six months later, in May 2001, and by the end of the year had 32,000 listeners and 1,200 shows per month. Epstein hopes the company will turn profitable this summer.

Holding his own purse strings, Epstein has gotten almost everything on the cheap. Alternacast acquired technology, office equipment and marketing lists for cents on the dollar from dot-bombers and negotiated the lease on the company's 10' x 5' office in the ice-cold market just after September 11. Before that, Alternacast was incubating in Epstein's apartment. The company now employs one other full-timer and three part-timers, all refugees from the dot-comet era.

Epstein has borrowed from family members and invested his savings. "I have debt from school, and I've incurred more debt," he says. "I don't think you can be a deer in the headlights when it comes to risk. If I'm not going to take a risk when I'm in my 20s with nobody to support, when will I do it?"

Shaking up his finances, at least in the short-term, is what Epstein is doing to pursue a more fulfilling career. "From Columbia, it was easy to go to a good law school and relatively easy to find a job where I was making six figures," he says. "I was swept along, but I wasn't very happy."

Seeing the risk that Epstein has taken, people often try to reassure him. "They say, 'You can always go back to law,'" Epstein says. "But that's what keeps me motivated to make this work."

Music did a lot of things for Daniel Schechter '83: It gave him refuge as a child and helped him explore the world outside of his hometown of Miami. It brought him recognition in the form of festival appearances and awards. It even led him to his wife, Christine Breede-Schechter '99TC, who also is a musician.

Schechter, an accomplished cellist and composer, studied at the competitive Tanglewood Institute in Massachusetts, majored in music and French literature at Columbia and then went straight into the music master's program. At 21, he was one of the youngest teachers of Music Hum ever at the College.

That's when he realized music might not be what he wanted to pursue full time for the rest of his life. "I had been so focused on music that I never thought about what was going to happen later or what would happen with other interests that I had," Schechter says, pointing out that one reason that he transferred after his first year from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio to Columbia was to get a broader education. "I was ready to branch out and do something new that would directly benefit others," he says.

Following the model of his uncle, who is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Schechter signed up for some pre-med classes at Columbia while getting his M.A. His uncle didn't understand why Schechter would turn away from music - and neither did others.

"I come from a family that promoted people's development in arts, and in which going into medicine was not supposed to be in the cards," he says. As for colleagues in the music department, "They were saying, 'Are you nuts?' and 'Maybe Dan wants to learn more about what was wrong with Wagner.'"

To further explore his interest, Schechter volunteered in the child psychiatry division at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where a mentor encouraged him to pursue medicine and to work with young children, where Schechter's gift for understanding nonverbal communication would be appreciated.

Schechter finished his music master's in 1987 and that fall enrolled in P&S. Specializing in child psychiatry, he now is medical director of New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Infant-Family Service/Therapeutic Nursery, which works with inner-city families with children under 5 who are at risk for abuse or neglect. He also teaches at P&S and is up for an assistant professorship of clinical psychiatry in pediatrics.

"I'm only now feeling that I'm at the level of depth in psychiatry that I was at in music back when I was 20," Schechter says. "I was never sure in the beginning if I was doing the right thing, but one thing I've learned about human development is that your life can be enriched in different areas and they contribute to each other."

He still makes time to play the cello for his enjoyment and that of his son, Jan Nikolai.

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