WPI Wire, Vol. 10, No. 2 - Summer 1996

Houten-Kemp '81 is Internet guide

Mary Houten-Kemp is like a travel agent for explorers in cyberspace. If you've never set foot on the "information superhighway," she can help you get on board--or rather, online. For the experienced and the adventurous, she points out little-known shortcuts and destinations off the beaten track. As founder and president of PA Software and Consulting, Houten-Kemp helps individuals and small business owners hook up to the Internet and find applications that meet their research, communications and marketing needs.

She's even written an "E-book"--an electronic book contained on two diskettes--called The Internet E-Mail Tutorial, to teach basic and advanced applications of electronic mail. E-mail is so much more than just a way to send messages to distant friends and relatives, Houten-Kemp contends. She wants users to discover the full range of resources and services that are out there--many for free.

Clients come to PA Software in Rindge, N.H., with a variety of needs. Some seek advice on software, or choosing an Internet service provider. Others want to conduct online research, set up a mailing list, or design a homepage on the World Wide Web. Houten-Kemp will also analyze a company's marketing program and make recommendations for taking it online.

Houten-Kemp got her first taste of electronic communication in the early 1990s, when her husband, John Kemp '82, was temporarily transferred from New Hampshire to Ohio. "I felt totally isolated out there," she recalls. "I got online to keep in touch with my family and to find people with similar interests." Her first foray was on the Prodigy network. Next, she checked out America Online and CompuServe, and found a world of forums, discussion groups and bulletin boards. The Internet was the next logical destination.

"In the last year or year-and-a-half, the Internet just exploded--so that's where I went," she says. "I just loved the concept of being in your own home--or at your own job--and being able to reach out to the world with just a few keystrokes."

An EE major with an M.B.A. from Babson College, Houten-Kemp worked in satellite communications and in banking before founding her own company. PA Software evolved from her initial business, Portfolio Alert, an online trading forum for bankers and investors to exchange mortgage securities, loans, and other portfolio assets. The idea for a software and consulting service came from her own marketing research. "Things were changing so dramatically and quickly on the Internet, that I realized that I had better bone up on that," she explains. "I investigated the opportunities available for marketing through electronic mail, and I found a lot of information out there. I realized I could save people a lot of time and effort if I put it together in one place."

Her web site, www.ronin.com/pa-software/, lets users jump to business and e-mail related sites. It has links to a variety of lists, services and time-savers, such as "Netminder," a free service that alerts you when your favorite web sites are updated, and the "International Directory of Women Web Designers," where Houten-Kemp is listed. Her book is offered for sale through a link to her e-mail page, but only as a sidelight to the informational offerings. This is intentional, reflecting her philosophy of online marketing.

"Right now, it's such a Wild West out there, people are giving away all this stuff for free," she says. "I tell clients, don't just go out there and say, 'This is me, this is what I'm selling,' because people will just click away and leave." Instead, she advises online marketers to offer freebies, in the form of germane information. "If you're selling hot dogs, give away recipes! That way, potential customers come to see your site as a resource, and will return often. To be successful at marketing online, it's important to also give something of value to the Internet community."

Houten-Kemp's book may be sampled by downloading a demo version from her web site. The two-diskette set can be ordered via Internet at pa.software@pobox.com for $9.95.

JKM

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