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David Abramowski

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Extranets Allow Start-Ups to Bill More Hours

Hey did you know that the term “Start up” isn’t exclusive to technology companies?

Hey did you know that the term “Start up” isn’t exclusive to technology companies?  I was shocked earlier this week when a few accountants wanted to have coffee and discuss their start up.  Immediately my brain started to think about the types of software they must be creating.  As I entered the local coffee shop and met the duo I quickly realized they were starting up an accounting practice.

It was amazing.  Two guys with a skill set outside of technology that were creating a new practice from the ground up.  They called it a start up.  After I got over my initial shock and awe, I settled into the discussion and quickly saw where they were going.

The pair was ready to leave their corporate jobs and continue their practice full time.  They already had a dozen clients and had dozens more ready to jump when the time was right. The reason they pulled me into a meeting: they were scared.  Not scared of leaving their jobs or starting up a new business. They were scared that they wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of their clients.  They were scared because they knew they  couldn’t scale as quickly as they needed to.

I thought to myself what a great problem to have.  But the more I chatted with the pair the more I realized how smart they were.  They knew that there was a finite limit to the number of hours they could spend in the office every day.  They knew that there was a correlation between billable hours and happy customers.  They knew that to be successful and still be able to see their kids, they needed to take advantage of the internet and get customers to help themselves as much as possible.  They wanted to know about the technology I was working on and how it applied to their practice.

Instead of launching into a sales pitch I really wanted to find out where their non-billable time was spent.  As Certified Public Accountants the team had both individuals and companies as clients.   Each client could have dozens if not hundreds of documents over the course of their relationship.  Clients constantly call looking for a copy of their quarterly statement, access to documents or information from last years tax return.  Storing, finding and moving around documents between clients was a tremendous headache that eMail was not well suited to solve.

The second biggest challenge for the pair was after hour phone calls. For some reason clients always have their questions at 9pm at night.  As a start up the team wanted to give the best service possible yet they didn’t want to keep answering the cell phone at all hours of the night.

It was clear to me that an extra-net could really solve these problems.  Extra-net you say?  Is that some new clever concept?  Is that Web 2.0? Web 3.0? Alas, I must come clean.  The concept of an extra-net is not new.  It’s not shiny and all twitterly.  It’s a proven technology that gives customers a private place to do business with a company.  Extranets used to be expensive and only available to the big companies with giant IT budgets.  But with the adoption of Software as a Service and the ultra low cost of online applications, extranets are now available to even the smallest of businesses.

I showed the two an extranet style application that I’m invoved in called MioWorks.  We quickly entered the information for a few of their clients,  clicked to enable the private portals, uploaded documents and sent private messages.  It took about 5 minutes for the light to come on and the pair to exclaim “THAT’S IT!”.

Here it is two weeks later.  As I sat at my desk this morning the phone rang.  It was one of the accountants.  He thanked me for taking the time to talk to them about their business.  He also wanted to tell me that over the weekend the pair made the final leap.  Our discussion and the technology I showed them made them feel comfortable that they could scale and deal with the needs of their clients.  The felt that they could maximize their hours, spend less time on the phone with clients and do more billable work.

Just before we hung up the phone, they asked if they can add me to their MioWorks portal!

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More Stories By David Abramowski

David Abramowski is a technologist turned product leader. David was a co-founder of Morph Labs, one of the first Platform as a Service plays on AWS. He was the GM for Parallels Virtuozzo containers, enterprise business, and most recently he is the leader of the product marketing team for the IT Operations Management solutions at the hyper growth SaaS company, ServiceNow.