SMB Startups Save the Economy!
By Harry Brelsford
In the Hindu religion, a cow is your mother. That’s why the cow has a revered place in countries like India where cattle belong to an uber-caste and travel freely with little fear of harm. Mothers are also the source of babies, which leads to population growth and more consumers consuming! Necessity is the “Mother of Invention” that leads us to our main point: SMB startups that are emerging and impacting the economy in a powerful way.
It’s a well-known school of thought that many of the very best companies (e.g., Intel) are created during times of economic turmoil. That is because companies learn how to run lean and mean. Need relevant examples? Look no further than two prominent members of the SMB community. Shortly before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, two successful SMB consulting practices where started and continue thriving as I write these words. Aaron Booker, shown on the cover, started his well-respected Hardlines technology consultancy (located in Bellingham, Washington) September 1, 2001. He quickly learned how to plant seeds in a recession and harvest when the crop was ready. But he didn’t stop there! Aaron’s latest venture, VarVid, started in spring of 2008 as the US economy technically started its contraction (according to economists).
Closer to the epicenter of the “9/11” tragedy and the corresponding economic downturn in the first part of the century (also driven in part by Y2K and “dot com” scale-backs) was the team of Jennifer and Carl Mazzanti in Hoboken, New Jersey. Two days before Booker started Hardlines, the Mazzantis started eMazzanti Technologies. This award-winning firm learned how to grow a start-up business the old-school way during tough times-through hard work and great service. Today this Microsoft Gold Partner and Small Business Specialist entity is often featured in Microsoft case studies and advertisements. (eMazzanti is featured in a two-page advertisement in Issue 3-3 of SMB PC magazine.)
2009 Recession Startup Wall of Fame!
Can the “economic slowdown startup” strategy from the last recession work today? Let’s find out by taking an “executive MBA scan” of several interesting startups. We consider this to be our SMB “Heroes” who are doing their part, day-by-day, to save the economy!
- Doyenz. Citing a new automated virtual IT approach in the SMB space, Doyenz is a one-year-old, Seattle-based startup led by former Microsoftie Ashutosh Tiwary. His sales and marketing strategy is aligned with the SMB community in that he has reached out to the SMB channel and sought feedback and advice at every step of his product-development cycle. His virtualized environments that are combined with the cloud computing paradigm are simply a new way to view Small Business Server and other like-minded network infrastructure solutions. It’s like ordering your SBS machine from an à la carte menu (add and subtract features, configure settings) and then downloading the completed virtual machine (VM) image. Learn more at www.smbnation.com.
- Symform. This Seattle-based startup is launching its Cooperative Storage Cloud service at SMB Nation Spring. It is-a low-cost, storage service that enables IT service providers to efficiently utilize existing capacity and extend onsite backup solutions at customer sites. This is accomplished with a secure, reliable, and automated disaster recovery offering that organizations of all sizes can afford. Founded by former Microsoft engineers with extensive experience building IT infrastructure products, Symform is the result of many years spent developing cost-effective solutions to distributed data management problems. Symform is dedicated to the belief that technology products built on cooperative, participatory principles like the Internet are inherently more affordable, dependable, scalable, and sustainable. I call it a disruptive, green technology. Monitor www.symform.com.
- Sharedband. This UK-based startup’s managed broadband bonding service gives SMBs a low-cost way to get faster, reliable Internet connections. By aggregating together different types of broadband circuits from different carriers at the IP layer, we are able to provide the bandwidth and resilience that businesses are looking for-at a price they can afford. I consider this one to watch as VoIP is introduced into small businesses and redundant Internet connectivity plus greater bandwidth become soup du jour. Visit www.sharedband.com.
- Varvid. Back to Aaron Booker. A little known factoid about Aaron is his early introduction to video production and social media stuff was from assisting the wildly popular startup “Wizards of the Coast” gaming company (its Magic-The Gathering game was created by Seattleite Peter Adkins, a personal friend of mine, during the early 1990s recession when Peter left Boeing). Varvid is a popular site (www.varvid.com) that interviews SMB channel partners and provides a “professional makeover” video interview package. Imagine “Joe the SBSer” having a professional three-minute HD video running in an embedded window on his company Web site. But it doesn’t stop there. Can you say “Facebook”? Part of the magic of Varvid’s offering is that you can exploit social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube by uploading your videos for viewing. Visit www.varvid.com.
The founders from Doyenz, Symform, Sharedband, and Varvid discuss their respective ventures at a Seattle coffee shop in the funky Fremont neighborhood.
- RPConnect.net. Long-time SMB community member Dave Bainum from the Washington DC-area jumped on the Response Point train early and wins my “Void Filler” title! Dave detected a need for telephone system reporting. Specifically, RPConnect.Net is a RiteTech LLC project (Web-based SaaS application) which helps extend the functionality of the Microsoft Response Point IP phone system. RPConnect.Net is the first SaaS expansion of RiteTech’s core consulting business. Additional SaaS offerings are anticipated in the future, including possibly a future Virtual Appliance (on-site) version of RPConnect. Visit http://www.ritetech.net.
- Pronto Marketing. Imagine outsourcing your outbound marketing, such as e-mail and print newsletters, to free you from the mundane production steps and allow you to sell more as an SMB consultant. It’s really the “highest and best use” paradigm concerning your time management. Pronto Marketing “gets it,” and I recently chatted with its founder Derek Brown who was the worldwide Windows Small Business Server marketing manager in the SBS 2003 timeframe. “Stepping off the Microsoft mothership into my own venture at the brink of economic turbulence was disconcerting at times; however, in many ways, it’s felt like a blessing, knowing that if we can succeed in this climate our foundation is rock solid. It’s been inspiring to connect with strong business leaders who are growing their businesses in tough times. Sharing in their passion and having their encouragement has made even the tough days full of rewards. I never looked back!” Visit www.prontomarketing.com.
- Third Tier. If you’re in the “know,” then you will readily recognize these names. Amy Babinchak teamed with Eriq Neale and later Chad Gross to create Third Tier in the midst of this economic downturn and in one of the hardest hit regions (Detroit area). Third Tier provides advanced IT support services to professionals. It also supports vendors in the small business space looking to assist their customers with advanced implementation and support services. I interpret that to mean a startup such as Third Tier could help other startups such as RPConnect with product support. Not that I’m trying to create an arranged marriage here, but the example works, doesn’t it? Visit www.thirdtier.net.
- SMB Photo. I think most of us want Jeremiah Ilges’s job. With his Midwest managed services business thriving, he has been freed up to pursue a startup, SMB Photo, that combines his hobby with a commercial endeavor. SMB Photo covers many trade show events such as SMB Nation. It also offers a professional photo shoot service at an extremely reasonable price to SMB channel partners to elevate their professionalism with a photo portfolio. The idea is that you can have current photos and join the “flight to quality” with an update mug shot on Your Website, LinkedIn, Facebook, and your printed materials. And it’s much more than a photo shoot. Jeremiah freely spews invaluable social media and networking advice while getting you to cheese up for the camera! Visit www.smbphoto.com.
- Netology. One of us makes good! Long-time SBSer Lars Anderson is elevating his “A” game to monetize some ideas in the small business space. When he reached out to me, not knowing he was writing this article, I was immediately impressed. Why? Because Lars lives on the East Coast of the US in Connecticut, a state where many Wall Street hedge fund managers live. Lars’s home town of New Canaan has been especially hard hit in this economic downturn. So this is truly a heartwarming story of creating a new line of work with ideas spawned from the depths of a recession. His company, Netology, has created a homegrown SBS 2K to SBS 2K08 migration approach using native technologies. Visit www.netologyllc.com. By the way-although Lars’s solution sounds similar to Jeff Middleton’s SBS Swing Migration Kit, there are differences, and since it is five years old, Jeff’s company is well-established, not a startup. Visit www.netologyllc.com.
- Calyptix. Ben Yarbrough has amazing timing (and I’m not talking about the recession). Calyptix hit the scene just as the SBS 2008 product was deep into development and it became apparent that a third-party firewall solution was needed. Its AE500 fits the exact need of the SBS marketplace at the exact time it’s needed. But, more importantly, Ben has reached out to the SMB community by sponsoring user group evenings and attending popular SMB events. Visit www.calyptix.com.
- Team 747. Located in the Bay Area, Team747 is focused on enabling its partners to deliver remote desktop services on our secure platform to “Simply get I.T. there.” The InstantHelp remote application is the next generation SaaS offering with no hardware, software, or configuration required. It comes bundled with utilities that enable channel partners to drive additional remote service revenue opportunities. One example is rechargeable remote support by the minute, hour, or monthly recurring revenue, and more. Visit www.team747.com.
- SMB Phone. North to the future is the motto for my home state of Alaska and this adage can be applied to two Canadians who have a packaged offering for the Response Point reseller community. SMB Phone offer small business turnkey telephone solutions based on Response Point for the end-user small business customer. For example, there is a “Premium 5” business line bundle that a channel partner can resell and sits right in the sweet spot for Response Point. Learn more at www.smbphone.com.
I recently had coffee with the founders of Team 747 on a visit to the Silicon Valley. What is it about coffee shops and startups? Must be the caffeine!
I know, I know. I am forgetting to cover a few more startups here such as Untangle, CoreConnex, et al. So read my SMB Dude blog at our SMB Nation site to keep up with my research. That’s the beautiful thing about our combined media approach: both print and blog. This allows article updates!
Plan B: Be the Startup-Business Coach
Another SMB community citizen, Todd Colbeck, has started a new service inside Colbeck Consulting Services. Todd trains folks to be business coaches. I sat in on his recent two-week intensive Webinar-based boot camp and was thoroughly IMPRESSED! What I witnessed was an MBA-level course being delivered so that we “techies” can elevate up to being Trusted Business Advisors and grow way beyond the bits. Todd explained his solution to me this way. “Business owners need new ideas to survive in a down economy, and the consultants in my group are a great resource. Recently we have provided not only technical support but a helpful psychological lift to get our clients to remain optimistic in the current environment.” Learn more at www.ccgcoaching.com.
Plan C: Existing Innovation
As part of my research for this article, I sat in on a Verizon concall to launch its redesigned Small Business Center. This is primarily a customer-facing hosted application service and keenly positioned for the startup that would be attracted to an off-premise technology suite. What I especially liked was here is a Fortune 500 company that is innovating new small business solutions in the recession!
And then there’s Matthew Sutton at Seattle-based HyBlue. At its Queen Anne offices in the early part of the decade, HyBlue was the original host for the Puget Sound Small Business Server (PSSBS) user group created by SBS MVP Steven Banks. That’s true grassroots SMB community support. HyBlue’s flagship network monitoring product is still popular in our community today. I recently received an e-mail from Matt announcing something “completely different” that taps into a countercyclical trend I highlighted in the Geekonomics cover story (SMB PC 1Q2009, Issue 3-4): SEX SELLS! Here is the press release on his iBurlesque iPhone application! iBurlesque-Now showing on your iPhone!
Remember those “floaty pens” with the hot girls that took their clothes off when you tipped the pen over? Your granddad or uncle probably had one and now you can show him the latest version on your iPhone! We’ve updated the floaty pen for the iPhone and featured stars from the neo-burlesque scene. Just select one of our lovely performers, tip your phone to the right, and voila! Her outer vestments fade away before your very eyes! With iBurlesque it’s easy to add new stars to your iPhone in just a couple of clicks. We’ve made it easier than ever to update your collection. And we’ll be adding more beautiful performers in the days to come as well as exciting new features to add even more realism to their performance.
A Helping Hand!
So how does the Big M fit into this story? To be honest, I wasn’t sure when I started my research. Microsoft is now a mature company, and I just didn’t see the startup hook. But then I was reading my beloved Wall Street Journal and found a story that featured Dan’l Lewin, an executive at Microsoft who oversees BizSpark http://www.microsoftstartupzone.com/pages/home.aspx). At that point, I had found my story hook! It turns out that BizSpark provides free Microsoft software (for development and external web site and ecommerce purposes) to privately-held startups nominated by the community (Microsoft Champs) that are three years of age or less and have less than $1M UDS revenue. I will cover this program much more in the 4Q2009 SMB PC magazine. Here is a short list of companies that BizSpark is supporting and, ergo, supporting the “new economy.”
- SynapticMash-SynapticMash is a Seattle-based company that is creating a collaborative solution for education that unlocks the data educators need to better focus on the business of education.
- Verdiem-Seattle-based startup that creates green power solutions for PCs to cut overall business costs.
- Eduify-SV-based Eduify provides students with a social networking platform that allows them to research and write papers, avoid plagiarism, search/find resources via mobiles phones, reach friends/share through Facebook, and become more efficient at doing assignments using resources on the Web.
- Storm Ideas-Storm Ideas (based in Scotland) is using Microsoft Silverlight to create a rich client application where people can collaborate on images, videos, docs, audio files, etc.
Conclusion: Create Your Future in the New Economy
We’re all going to emerge from this recession older and wiser. Major forces driving the recovery will be small business startups that innovate us out of the financial doldrums impacting world economies. So please support and honor the efforts of the startups highlighted here. And maybe you should take the plunge and try out your new business idea in the free market. As you have read, the timing actually couldn’t be better!
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