Q&A Wednesday :: Uptime Devices

Today’s Q&A Wednesday is with Lemuel Williams, Director of Business Development at Uptime Devices.

Q: Give us the elevator pitch for you company?

We are a hardware manufacturer of data center sensors that can detect threats such as ambient, power, and security.  We have engineers in India and Australia allowing us to compete within a global scale for software development; along with, relocating our manufacturing facilities to Singapore and El Paso, Texas to serve our customers in different regions of the world that our product offering covers, and drive down channel cost on acquiring these devices.

Q: How has the company been financed so far? Are you looking for additional capital?

Bootstrapped and no Angel Investors.  We have had several financing options with local financial institutions in times of need for capital and operation expenses, and have kept our revenue and sales above the “yellow line”.  Since our industry requires a heavy infusion of capital to keep up with the giants in the competitive space, acquisition, mergers, or closing its doors are the options that one has.  Yes, we are looking for additional capital to help offset from the purchase back in 2001 either being debt to capital recapitalization.  This will allow us tons of breathing room to create products in which we know that will help shape our market further 2-5 ahead along with channel partners requesting new offerings to help with their current sales model to bundle these sensors.

Q: What was your first indication that you really had something interesting here?

When we signed our first OEM agreement with a Fortune 500 Industrial component leader that then signed another of our OEM partners, we knew we had something good but had to ensure that we are delivering our message correctly and supporting our channel partners who are implementing our technology as a solution than just a standalone offering.  The sensor market to date has a market cap of 300-500M and the share of it “Intelligent Sensing” being 8-10% and growing

Q: How has customer adoption been so far?

It has been a steady adoption.  We have been in the business of educating our customers of the product offering that we have along with what is being seen and what will occur in our market.  Now that power, cooling, and energy are a “hot” topic, this is yielding channel interest along with having our product offerings integrated into other solutions.

Q: What can we expect to see in the future from your company?

We will be expanding our product offering into the power space with flexibility for price and distribution.  Also, we are developing our hardware platform to software since our partners are seeing this trend within the field and our industry is moving away from hardware to software implementation.  Since power reduction, green energy are the hot topics within the data center, we are looking for ways to tackle the problems at first so that competitive advantage will not have the best of us, also ensuring that we keep a close eye with our channel to know what they need from us.

Q&A Wednesday :: Uptime Devices

Q&A Wednesday :: VirTex

Today’s Q&A Wednesday is with Brad Heath, President of VirTex Assembly Services.


Q: Give us the elevator pitch for you company?

VirTex specializes in electronic manufacturing services that help our customers minimize cost, inventory levels and lead time, while increasing their supply chain flexibility.  By combining our facilities in Texas and Mexico with our other global partners, we can reduce the lead times, logistics costs and communication headaches normally associated with global sourcing.

Q: How did the company get started? Who had the idea? Was there an “A Ha!” moment?

The company was started in 1999 as an electronics manufacturing outsourcing service.  As such, we managed programs for our customers by buying and reselling excess capacity at our supplier partners.  Over the following year, we acquired one of our suppliers and began in house manufacturing.  When the economy slowed down, we had the realization that lead times and inventory levels had become more critical for our customers and that Asia was not the best and only answer for low cost labor.  Over the next 18 months, we increased outsourced high labor content to our Asia partners, while opening a facility in Juarez, Mexico.  The Mexico facility allows us to manage a North American supply chain with labor rates approaching Asia.  This has resulted I lead time reductions of 30-50% for projects using this model.  It has also allowed us to leverage existing local maquila facilities that have been hit by the down turn to utilize their capacity and offer new services to our customers.

I’ve always thought it was interesting, but understood we had something special when we were awarded Progressive Manufacturer of the Year for small to mid size businesses by Managing Automation magazine at this year’s Progressive Manufacturing Summit.  To be awarded this honor among companies like, Ingersoll Rand, Cisco, and General Dynamics made me realize we were really doing something out of the ordinary.

Q: How has customer adoption been so far?

Customer adoption has been unbelievable.  New projects awarded and built under this model have allowed us to not only survive the recession, but to exceed last year’s revenue numbers to date.  We have a number of exciting opportunities with both start ups and established companies that I expect to create significant growth into the next few years.  We have seen a big increase in customers wanting

Q: What sort of startups could you really enable?

We can enable most all electronic or electro-mechanical product startups who require early manufacturing involvement to ensure that their product can be produced at their targeted cost.  The earlier we are involved in the process, the more help we can be.  It is easier to design with a cost target in mind than to drive costs down to hit a cost target that has been overdesigned in terms of unnecessary functionality.  We can also help to define cost reduction targets and roadmaps based on production ramps.  This will allow startups to have realistic cost expectations when they meet with investment partners.  We believe understanding your manufacturing strategy is as important as understanding your target market and product requirements.

Q: What can we expect to see in the future from your company?

VirTex is continuing to add products and services to automate what-if cost reduction scenarios.  We are tailoring our business intelligence and manufacturing execution tools to the needs of a growing entrepreneurial marketplace.  We see startups and the ability to effectively meet their needs as the next level of collaboration and are working on tools to enhance this.  As more and more entrepreneurs embrace social networking, we will need increasingly efficient ways to communicate between teams in global locations.  We are looking at ways to automate this collaboration using existing platforms.  We are also working closer with more startups and developing more ways to reduce their startup costs  and time to market.

Q&A Wednesday :: VirTex

Q&A Wednesday :: Gelato

Today’s Q&A Wednesday is with Steve Odom, Founder and CEO of Gelato.

Q: Give us the elevator pitch for your company?

Gelato is a new online dating service that imports what you’re doing at Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Pandora and other services to build your dating profile. It’s about finding the right dates based on what they are actually doing, instead of some carefully crafted, static profile that sounds like all the rest.

For example, on Gelato, you can write about your favorite movies, but you can also show the last three movies you’ve rented at Netflix.  By showing the kinds of movies you actually rent, it gives potential dates a much richer, authentic view of what kinds of movies you like.

It’s realtime too. Realtime is interesting because let’s say you are at an Alamo Drafthouse Singalong. You can do a search like “show me women, 30-40, non-smoker, politically liberal, who have recently mentioned ‘Alamo Drafthouse Singalong’ in their lifestream”. Which means if they have recently Tweeted about the singalong or posted a flickr photo from one, then they will show up in your search results. Or it could be UT Football. Or Bob Schneider. Whatever your interests may be. Now that lots of us are sharing much of what we do in realtime, Gelato can help you match you up with others doing the same thing.

Q: How did the company get started? Who had the idea? Was there an “A Ha!” moment?

I got divorced a couple of years ago and found myself trying online dating. I was surprised that dating sites hadn’t changed much over the years. It took a long time to create a profile. There were lots of fake profiles. A lot of the profiles all sounded the same. As a result, it felt like I went out on too many dates where we didn’t have much of a connection.

At about the same time, I also started using Twitter. I found with Twitter, that if I followed someone for a couple of weeks that I really got to know them. I wanted that in a dating site.

Q: How has the company been financed so far? Are you looking for additional capital?

Gelato has been self-funded so far.  We have gotten a lot of attention since we launched in September at the DEMO Conference. We’ve had stories in ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, New York Times, Austin Business Journal, and lots of others. People have responded very positively to it. Now that we have launched and have some traffic, our mission is to understand how people are using the site. Basically, we’re developing metrics on conversions, doing lots of A/B testing, and small iterations. All of this to know what it takes to get a new visitor, make them happy enough to convert to a paid account, and what is the lifetime value of that paid account. Once we have those metrics, we can demonstrate what we can do with additional capital behind us and go out and raise some money.

Q: What can we expect to see in the future from your company?

There are so many cool things we want to do. 40%, roughly 40 million, of the single people in the US use online dating sites. It’s a billion dollar market. But I don’t know anyone that is really happy with the big dating sites. It’s a big opportunity. People seem to like what we’re doing. One dating blog called it the easiest dating site ever. We want to make it even easier. We have had suggestions for a recommendation engine so you don’t even have to search for dates. They are recommended to you. We have lots of interesting data on which to make recommendations. What movies a person has watched. What kind of music they like. What they have been talking about. So recommendations are going to be our next big feature. Mobile is also an obvious addition to really leverage our real-time, location-aware data.

Q&A Wednesday :: Gelato

Q&A Wednesday :: Appozite

Today’s Q&A Wednesday is with Hayes Davis, Founder and CEO of Appozite.

Q: Give us the elevator pitch for your company.

Appozite is the company behind CheapTweet.com, a social deals search engine that indexes the deals people are talking about on Twitter. Coupons and deals sites are a big category but since they’re based on the affiliate sales model, their selections are limited to what’s available on the affiliate networks. They also aren’t very good at responding to deals in real-time. This is a problem for shoppers who are looking to save money on something unique or want to be clued into a time sensitive deal.

We’ve built a search engine that uses specialized algorithms to automatically find Twitter messages related to deals. Since we’re mining the Twitter conversation, we can help you discover deals that literally can’t be found anywhere else – and we can do it in real-time. From the “Saturday Night Special” offered by an Etsy artisan to Twitter-only specials from big brands to friends sharing a good deal on a book at Amazon, we find it all. Then, we take it a step further and filter out the best deals based on user votes and algorithms that monitor how much a particular deal is talked about on Twitter.

Q: How did the company get started? Who had the idea? Was there an “A Ha!” moment?

Appozite was founded by four of us with fairly diverse backgrounds in software engineering, e-commerce, business development and organizational communication. This was in May of 2008. At the time we had more of a theme than a concrete business plan. All of us saw huge potential in finding appropriate ways to integrate e-commerce and social software. Most online sellers at that time were (and still are) just waking up to the huge changes taking place in how people use the web – especially with the rise of social networks, real-time communication and location-based services. We wanted to help e-commerce play well with these innovations. From there we worked through a few prototypes of different ideas. We released some of them and got some feedback. CheapTweet was one of these prototypes and it really struck a chord.

Q: What was your first indication that you really had something interesting here?

We launched CheapTweet on the Tuesday before Black Friday in 2008. By Black Friday we were featured in an article on MSNBC.com. That experience definitely helped us feel like we were on to something.

After that we begin to spread by word of mouth among all the small sellers on Twitter – the artisans and merchants running small e-commerce shops. They were so happy we were automatically giving them more exposure for their offers since they were under-served by the traditional coupons & deals model. They gave us great feedback and encouragement and really helped us get started.

Q: How has customer adoption been so far?

Customer adoption as been great. There are really two parts to our business, the consumer side and the seller side. For consumers, CheapTweet is a free service for discovering great deals. We’ve seen traffic to the site grow 600% so far this year.

The seller side is where our revenue model comes into play. I think the Yellow Pages is the best metaphor for what we do. In the same way the Yellow Pages harvest all business phone numbers and then sell more exposure via a free-to-consumer service, we algorithmically find deals and sell services to online sellers to get more exposure to our user base. We do this through advertising and our CheapTweet Stores program that we launched in late June. We’re working with companies like Barnes & Noble, Toys “R” Us, Overstock.com, Drugstore.com, Jockey, VacationRentals.com (part of Austin-based HomeAway) and quite a few others. The response has been really positive.

Q: How has the company been financed so far? Are you looking for additional capital?

We’re in the seed stage right now. That said, at this point we’re growing organically through revenue generated by sales of our advertising and CheapTweet Stores services. We are, however, considering our options for raising additional capital that could help us grow faster.

Q: What can we expect to see in the future from your company?

There’s a world of information out there about great deals. We’re implementing some big ideas about how we can use what we’ve done so far with our technology at CheapTweet to find and organize deals that are flowing in more areas of the web. We also believe that like online news, social connections and e-commerce, the coupons and deals space can benefit from personalization and smarter algorithms. Aside from the technology, we plan to continue announcing partnerships and growing the seller-side of our business. As we continue to progress, we’ll be making all announcements on the CheapTweet blog (http://cheaptweet.com/blog) so subscribe to that to stay in the loop.

Q&A Wednesday :: Appozite

Wednesday Q&A :: DoubleHorn Communications

Today’s Q&A Wednesday is with Tab Schadt, the founder and CEO of DoubleHorn Communications (www.doublehorncommunications.com/).

Q:   What commitments or beliefs drive DoubleHorn Communications on a daily basis?

1)      We remind ourselves daily that we are Texas Owned, Texas Operated, Texas Focused.  In other words, we avoid casting a wide net and not delivering on fundamental expectations of small business customers.

2)      We maintain an excellent and unwavering approach to customer service.  Period.

3)      We own and constantly develop our technology platform only while maintaining a high level of quality live support.

4)      We subsidize required capital to enable customer adoption and satisfaction. The main objective is to ensure quality and save customer from having a cash outlay.  Depending on each customer’s unique service needs they may receive IP-phones, routers and switches at no charge as part of our managed service portfolio.

Q:   What are the market focus areas and key services for DoubleHorn Communications?

DoubleHorn Communications focuses on the Texas small business market, or as we have coined: “DASH” markets (Dallas Austin San Antonio Houston).  Our service delivery model, applications and network architecture were built from ground-up with specific focus on Texas based small businesses.  While our footprint is national and strategic partnerships are with Regional and Fortune 500 companies, we maintain a disciplined focus on the Texas small business market.

We provide IP based managed and hosted communications services including:  High Speed Internet, VoIP, Hosted PBX, Metro Ethernet, SIP Trunking, Hosted Exchange Email w/ Mobile sync, Data Backup & Recovery and Business Continuity to name a few.  In addition, we are consistently activating our specialty add-on services like Conferencing, Mobile Office and Contac Center.   We include all IP phones and hardware at no charge as part of our managed service offering.

Q:   How has customer adoption and retention been over last several years?

DoubleHorn Communications has experienced tremendous growth over last four years.  We literally earned our first small business customer in 2005 and presently have thousands of managed IP-phones, routers and switches placed amongst hundreds of different types of small businesses all over Texas.  More amazingly is the consistency in which we have grown across multiple cities within Texas.  Our growth and repeat success in fundamental areas underlines the need to have a consistent market focus in good or bad economic times.  We believe this discipline and loyalty towards the small business market in Texas is beginning to ignite our growth in a whole new way.

Fortunately, our customer churn rate has been very low.  This does not surprise us from an operational or service confidence standpoint, but, we do feel fortunate that the recent economic times have not caused more loss.  We believe that working with customers and providing as much assistance as possible has and will continue to produce returns and hopefully enable them to prosper, which is good for everyone.  We have also found that without upfront and constant communication this approach is not effective.   Luckily, the frequent communication needed for financial controls ties in to our overall customer service model.

Q:           What separates DoubleHorn from your competitors?

This answer is pretty straightforward and may seem trite or cliché, but it is true.  DoubleHorn’s customer service and focused product set is second to none within the ISP, Telecom or general small business services arena.  We truly acknowledge that we are only as good as our valued customers believe we are.  The fact we are technically inclined as an organization and are active with network management and application development takes a back-seat to producing a loyal customer base.

An example of our customer service dedication would be our ‘Guarantee that a live person will answer the phone during business hours, within four rings’!  When a small business owner knows we will do whatever it takes, not just words, this makes us different.  Fortunately these acts of commitment are not expensive or complicated, they just takes ownership and daily focus.  This is not easy, but does separate us from the pack.  We also have a ninety-day guarantee and ongoing service level commitment.

In addition, our training and installations are conducted by cross trained full-time employees.  We manage down to the second and millisecond in some cases all provided equipment and network connectivity.  We also assign Divisional VP’s to make unique customer introductions followed-up by an assigned Service Delivery Manager.  The list goes on and on, the main point is these are daily high-touch habits that support our own technology platform.

Wednesday Q&A :: DoubleHorn Communications