Second Time's the Charm
After disappointment with their '04 WPI Venture Forum Business Plan Contest performance, Cory Wallenstein '05 and Kevin Menard '04 returned to win the CEI ALL-OUT Business Plan Challenge in '05
By Jim Schakenbach
Make no mistake. Kevin Menard '04 and Cory Wallenstein '05 are two guys with a plan, and a very good one at that. Incorporated under the impressive name of Servprise International Inc., Wallenstein and Menard have developed and patented a browser-based computer server rebooting technology and written a business plan solid enough to make them winners of the 2005 Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation's ALL-OUT Business Plan Challenge and recipients of the $10,000 cash prize.
Called WebReboot, their innovation enables companies such as Internet service providers (ISPs) to restart their crashed servers remotely without interruption of power. The result is a fast, safe reboot without the potential problem of hard drive crashes and loss of data. "Large companies like ISPs have three choices when their servers go down. They can go down the hall or down the road and restart their servers if they're lucky enough to have them nearby," states Wallenstein. "If the servers are across the country, they can try to call someone on site to be their eyes and hands and work on the computer, but that's not always an option and it can cost a bundle. The third option is to do what's called a 'remote reboot' in which the company simply disconnects the power supply and then shoves it back on, which creates a power surge that can damage or destroy the critical components inside and most importantly, the hard drives, which are extremely fragile."
So Wallenstein, with a BS in electrical and computer engineering, and Menard, with a degree in computer science, came up with a better idea. Both had started their entrepreneurial careers early owning separate web hosting companies and Wallenstein, who had server space in Lynn, Massachusetts some one hundred miles from where he lived, knew first hand the difficulties of trying to service crashed computers remotely. Enlisting fellow fraternity brother Menard, Wallenstein set about designing a system that would become WebReboot, which simply sends the server processor a reset signal over the Internet without disconnecting the power. "It's as if a person was standing right there, pushing the reset button," says Wallenstein. With no interruption of power, there's no risk for hard drive damage and lost data.
Honing their pitch.
After an eye-opening experience at the WPI Venture Forum Business Plan Challenge last year, Menard and Wallenstein went back to the drawing board and rethought their entire presentation. They whittled their original business plan from 75 pages down to just over 30. They jettisoned page after page of technical data for a more layman-friendly, marketing-oriented approach. The focus changed from being all about the technology to the purpose and goal of the business. Wallenstein and Menard credit WPI's Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and the WPI Venture Forum for this sea-change in their presentation.
"Their comments, direction, and review of our ideas, even at the elementary stage, are what guided us," stated Wallenstein. "We're engineers by degree. Our first business plan was literally the same thing as a senior thesis - it was very detailed in how things worked and why they worked better. It wasn't focused at all on why WebReboot was going to make money, why it was going to be successful, why people would want it. The WPI Collaborative for Entrepreneurship & Innovation gave us the resources to take this from just a box to an actual business. I was making each unit by hand and selling them one at a time - no concept of economies of scale, no distribution network. It really wasn't sustainable and at that point it was just a hobby."
Planning their next move.
Armed with a fresh approach to their business and $10,000 in prize money in their account, Menard and Wallenstein have hit the ground running. Servprise has gone from hand assembling each unit to contract manufacturing the basic circuitry and has swapped out their hobby-kit-looking sheet metal box for a more sophisticated injection-molded case. Initially supported by "two very dedicated girlfriends" and private funding from family and friends, Menard and Wallenstein are now looking for early stage investors to get them to the next level.
"We're now a business," comments Wallenstein. "We have distributors in Japan, Denmark, and on the west coast; we'll soon have distribution agreements in place in Ireland and the United Kingdom." According to Menard, their first choice was to go with retail sales primarily from their web site, but after receiving advice from their WPI Venture Forum advisors that they would be better off selling in quantity to distributors, they agreed that wholesaling was the way to go. 'With distributors we can sell in volume and they take care of marketing to their established customer base," he observed. "In the meantime we are doing retail sales through our web site, but we'll probably be phasing that out."
With a utility patent filed to provide protection for their innovation, United States trademark applications complete, and European trademark filings in the works, Servprise International is poised for growth. New distributors are being lined up, sales are being made to a variety of companies, and plans are in development to expand the scope of their product. Right now, WebReboot comes as a small unit capable of handling up to eight servers; Servprise is getting requests from customers to create larger units capable of handling many more servers. According to Wallenstein, this next step will enable them to make inroads into the major Internet and data storage companies such as Google, Yahoo, and EMC.
"Our goal now is to attract some significant money," continued Menard. "We need to hire staff, add two to three distributors a month, and get beyond just a single product."