Sramana Mitra: Talk to me about some of the trends you are seeing.
Mike Toplisek: We started a little less than a year ago bringing some of these cloud computing and IT services to small and medium customers. The interest in the older flows and the funnels have validated the trend we believed to be there, which is that small businesses want to focus on what they do to compete in the marketplace. If they manufacture something, they want to focus on what they manufacture. If it’s a small chain of restaurants, they want to focus on their customers and their menu. Increasingly, it doesn’t make sense for them to invest in the often expensive and technical resources needed to manage servers and care for software programs.
The trend that we’re seeing is toward virtualization and pushing a lot of IT needs and infrastructure that support the business into the cloud. You put it into the hands of experts, variablize that cost, and it allows them to focus on and shine in the core areas of their businesses.
SM: What does that do to your product road map? What is the strategy for EarthLink to penetrate this market? It is highly competitive and crowded. How do you differentiate, and how do you evolve the road map to convince a large number of small businesses to move to you?
MT: That’s a great question. It’s a question we think about every single day. If you think about it, we’re not inventing a lot of the point solutions we bring to customers. For example, we provide hosted and managed email services, but we’re not writing new email platforms. We use Exchange or Zimbra. We provide antivirus, but we’re not writing or creating antivirus software. If you think about what we’re providing for the customer, it’s simplifying technology. It’s the control plane that allows all of the customers to have all of these point solutions and for us to bring all of the people who are writing software and the applications that are relevant to those businesses and marry those and provide them in a simplistic way with great customer service for our 150,000 small business customers. They’re not experts in email, security, or antivirus software. They’re experts in the businesses they’re running. We allow them to devote more of their time to that, and we’ll bring all of the point solutions to them and provide expertise around that. That’s how we’ll differentiate. The more point solutions we bring, the more easily they are managed, the more we help them vary their costs and focus on their businesses, and the more we can separate ourselves from the competition.
SM: What kinds of point solutions would make sense to bring on to your platform in the future?
MT: There are various industry vertical we have focused on or that some of the companies we’ve acquired have focused on over the years. Health care is one. Financial services is another. Retail is probably the largest. We’re getting calls and inquiries consistently from companies and niche players that provide solutions for these industries that believe they have something better to offer. They know we have this customer base and would like to sit in our data centers or connect to our data centers and have a way to get to these customers, to be options on the control panel. We filter them to see what’s out there. If it’s differentiated, if it makes sense and we believe it’s something that’s good for our customers, we’ll bring the company into the portfolio and expose it as an option.
The development of software, specifically software that’s made to improve business processes, will allow for business process as a service. Software that’s driven for specific industries would make a lot of sense for us. So, we do a lot of work in that area. In the future, that’s where we’ll move beyond email, antivirus, cloud computing, and a lot of the point solutions we offer today.