This collection includes short articles about conducting background checks, an online matchmaker for developing technologies, electronic whiteboards, powder room promotions, renting CIOs, and encrypting e-mail messages.
Of RÉsumÉs and Rap Sheets
If you're launching or growing your company and feeling a little desperate for tech talent, you may be tempted to hire first and think later. Bad move. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a huge number of candidates -- at all levels -- lie on their rÉsumÉs. More than half the companies surveyed by the organization in 1998 found that job candidates had falsified information about their previous employment.
John Putzier, president of FirStep Inc., a human-resources consulting firm in Prospect, Pa., says free-form job titles make matters even more confusing. "If I'm interviewing a 'guru,' is she a project manager or just a wacko?" Putzier says.
The worst-case scenario, he says, can lead to a negligent-hiring suit. "If someone has been convicted of assault, and you could have found that out and didn't, you could be putting the lives of employees, customers, and clients in danger," he warns.
Fortunately, there's a way to protect your company. First, make any job offer contingent on a background check. Then, to save time, hire a screening service to do the checking for you. Third-party services, like Laborchex, in Jackson, Miss., can turn such requests around in a matter of hours or a few days at most.
Laborchex, which took its service online a year ago, now plays Sherlock Holmes for 1,000 clients. For an average cost of $70 a candidate, Laborchex staffers poll the applicant's past employers and gather driving and criminal records, credit reports, and other publicly available information.
The snooping is all aboveboard, says Laborchex owner and president Rene Barbee. "We make sure we have a legal release from the applicant before we do the review," he says.
However, hiring an outsider to do your background checks is potentially perilous, says lawyer Julie Moore, president of Employment Practices Group, a training and consulting company in Windham, N.H. "A person can sue you for what your independent contractors do," she says.
So if you do hire a background checker, cover your you-know-what. Ask for references and a copy of the company's insurance policy. Make sure the company complies with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. Finally, says Moore, get an indemnification contract. "You want to make sure the background-check firm will pay the defense costs and any settlement if it was their wrongdoing that brought on the suit," she says. --Jill Hecht Maxwell
Your Average Joe
It's no surprise that nontechnical professionals, such as photographers and real estate agents, consider the Web a valuable business tool. But what is surprising is that such Main Street proprietors are now buying up more domain names than their high-tech counterparts are -- further evidence that the Web is, well, everywhere.
Top First-Time Domain-Name Buyers, by Occupation
3. Real estate agents
4. Church officers and clergy
5. Insurance agents
6. Internet service providers
8. Physicians and surgeons
9. Software professionals
Source: Network Solutions Inc., January 2000
Virtual Swap Meet
At yet2.com, one company's mothballed technology can be another's moneymaking treasure.
Launched earlier this year, the Web site is intended to streamline the clunky process of researching, selling, buying, trading, and licensing technologies.
According to yet2.com, based in Cambridge, Mass., businesses spend more than $100 billion annually on research and development for technologies that, for one reason or another, they end up wanting to sell. Yet2.com's mission: turning that research into revenues.
The company provides businesses with a searchable online marketplace for their technologies. Successful deals often result from online connections made between buyers and sellers whose paths otherwise might never have crossed. In one early transaction, for instance, a home-appliances company was negotiating with an aerospace company.
Like any good matchmaker, yet2.com keeps interested parties anonymous until they agree to an introduction. Buyers and sellers then negotiate their own deal. Yet2.com's cut varies depending on the deal's bottom line but never exceeds $50,000. (Companies also pay an annual fee to use the site.)
The forum's first 200 registered users range from lone inventors to members of the Fortune 500, says Conrad Langenhagen, director of strategic planning. Small companies may benefit by finding research done by bigger companies, he says. And start-ups and soloists may be able to sell their own innovations online.
Thomas G. Field Jr., professor of law at Franklin Pierce Law Center, in Concord, N.H., however, says electronic searches will never replace the traditional system of human brokers.
Will yet2.com work? The answer is, of course, yet to come, Field says. But he calls the users' costs relatively low compared with soaring R&D costs. "Even if the technology sales' yield is one hit a year, what the hell, you've made back your investment," he says. --Anne Stuart
From the Life-Is-Too-Short File:
Moral: Pick an Internet service provider with an unlimited-use plan.
Source: Cyber Dialogue
Things We Love
As everybody knows, whiteboards are an ephemeral medium. (Do the words Do Not Erase mean anything to you?) And clients can't take them off-site and read them over.
Electronic whiteboards that record what you write and print out, one board at a time, have been around for years, but they're cumbersome, slow, and expensive, and they use Flintstones-era thermal paper.
One day last spring on a flight to St. Louis, lawyer Dennis Brislawn read in Popular Mechanics about Mimio (from Virtual Ink Corp.; www.mimio.com; 877-696-4646). Mimio, which sells for $499 at the company's online store, is a device that attaches to a regular whiteboard with suction cups and records a kind of animated movie of everything you write. Plug Mimio's cord into a PC with Windows, and the computer saves the movie; you can play it back, rewind it, and fast-forward it. When Brislawn's plane landed, he called Virtual Ink and had the folks there ship one of the units to the conference he was attending. He successfully used Mimio for his presentation to 300 lawyers.
He is now hooked. Instead of saving his scribbling as one big graphic, Mimio's software translates Brislawn's words into a text file. He can shrink or enlarge individual elements as well as cut and paste them into other Windows documents. --J.H.M.
Flushing Out Customers
Attendees at a recent Internet conference were, well, bowled over to find that one exhibitor had laid claim to the toilets.
A Connecticut company had bought exclusive rights to promote itself as the official "bathroom sponsor" at a Jupiter Communications event. And promote it did, posting its signs on rest-room walls and on stall doors. Even behind closed doors there was no escape: more ads decorated the inside of each stall.
And in a modern twist on the gift-with-purchase concept, company employees gave departing rest-room patrons bottles of spring water labeled with the company's name.
Which, by the way, was FloNetwork.
John Carroll, a media critic and managing editor of WGBH's Greater Boston TV program, says marketing in bathrooms is inevitable in an era in which companies buy ads on airport baggage carousels. The free spring water, though -- that's a first. The message, Carroll says: "Not only did we catch you in here with all our ads, but we're going to make sure you come back real soon."
FloNetwork, of Greenwich, Conn., an E-mail marketing company, couldn't agree more. "You have a captive audience," corporate communications director Beth Ghiloni says cheerfully.
But others remain unconvinced about the taste of powder-room promotions. Sniffs Carroll: "They're called privies for a reason." --A.S.
For Rent: Savvy CIO, Available Fridays
It's no secret to executives of small businesses that good tech help is extra hard to find these days. In a market where Ferraris and options are becoming the currency of choice, a few companies are turning to an extreme version of outsourcing: they're renting chief information officers.
"The idea behind CIO outsourcing is that you're renting an officer of the company," says Aberdeen Group senior analyst Stephen Lane. "Ideally, that's someone who has the experience to get your company started with IT while you're building your own organization." CIO outsourcing goes beyond just hiring a consultant, Lane explains. Whereas a consultant carries out a particular job -- be it coding or assessment or project management -- an outsourced CIO becomes a member of the senior management team.
Janet Kraus, CEO of Circles, has worked with both consultants and a rent-a-CIO. Janie Tremlett, founder of the CIO-outsourcing program at Breakaway Solutions, spent a year on call at Kraus's Boston-based concierge-services company, working anywhere from one day a week to one day a month. Tremlett helped Kraus plan strategy, choose technology, design an IT organization, and even get financing. Circles then called in a development team from Breakaway -- a full-service provider -- to handle the implementation.
On an all-cash basis, according to Tremlett, a client would typically pay about $40,000 to have a CIO on board once a week for three months. (The average salary for an experienced CIO in 1999 was $152,000 plus stock options and benefits, according to a Computerworld survey; in this year's hotter high-tech job market, salaries can run even higher.)
CEO Kraus valued the arrangement's flexibility. In addition, Circles benefited from the fact that Breakaway serves a wide client base. "Janie wouldn't talk about specifics, but she would try to bring the learning of other clients to bear," Kraus recalls.
The ultimate measure of Tremlett's success may be the fact that she's still working at Circles. Fifteen months after she began working with the concierge business, it had grown from 12 to 100 employees but still was relying on its outsourced CIO. --Mary Kwak
Better than Invisible Ink?
E-mail may seem to resemble shifting sand, but when it comes to staying power, those bits streaming through the ether might as well be carved in stone. Long after they've been forgotten, confidential strategic documents and tasteless jokes live on. And they can return to haunt the senders, as companies like Microsoft have learned all too painfully.
Disappearing Inc., a San Francisco start-up, has developed a system that promises to make such problems vanish. The company's Disappearing Email encrypts each message and assigns it a 128-bit key -- essentially a code that "unlocks" the encryption. Then the message is sent on its way. The recipient reads the encrypted mail by automatically "borrowing" the key from one of Disappearing's servers.
If Disappearing's software isn't installed on the recipient's computer, the message appears as a link to a Web site, also hosted by Disappearing. At the site the message will be joined with the key, decoded, and displayed. After a time specified by the sender, Disappearing throws away the key. The message may remain on a PC, on an E-mail server, or on backup tapes, but it would be impossible to read it.
Slated for release to companies with more than 1,000 Microsoft Outlook users, Disappearing Email is designed as an Outlook add-on. It costs $4 per mailbox per month.
Boro Marinkovich, president of BBM Solutions, a Toronto-based systems integrator, tested Disappearing Email for a client. Following a government investigation that had forced the client to turn over reams of electronic files, the company's partners were eager to try out Disappearing with their 50 or so staff members. Three months into the test, Marinkovich reported no technical problems with the service.
But Marinkovich flags possible lack of access to Disappearing's servers as his greatest concern. If Disappearing's system goes down, he points out, "you're going to have a hard time reading your mail. That's the potential Achilles' heel in this whole design." --M.K.
The Quotable Entrepreneur
"In this new economy, failure is not a bad thing. If you have enough activity in an area, and you have failures that are because of a market change or something similar, you will instantly get funded again. It's hard to accept this, but it's like after a forest fire. You have had all this burning, but then all around there's new growth shooting up."
--Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks Inc., a $60-million provider of optical networking technology
A Rose.com by Any Other Name
What's in a name? Possibly returns that beat the market by nearly 100%. That's the conclusion reached by Michael Cooper, Orlin Dimitrov, and P. Raghavendra Rau, of the finance department at Purdue University. In a recent study of 95 businesses, they found that companies that had changed their names to include .com, .net, or Internet outdid the AMEX Inter@ctive Week Internet Index (also known as the @Net Index) by an average of 25% on the day of the change. (The @Net Index includes 50 companies involved in Internet infrastructure, access, content, and commerce, including AOL and Amazon.com.) The researchers also tracked 52 of those 95 companies over six months and reported that they outperformed the Index, on average, by a whopping 97%.
Many companies in the sample were relative unknowns, and Cooper speculates that their obscurity may have contributed to the dramatic effect. "As soon as they change their names, they get caught in screens that traders are using to pick stocks," Cooper explains. Traders buy, often without asking questions, and the price shoots up. Better-known companies, conversely, may be able to buck the dot-com trend. In March, Nasdaq-listed InfoSpace.com announced that it was dropping the ubiquitous suffix. Coincidence or not, that same day InfoSpace beat the @Net Index by 8%. --M.K.
After changing their names to include .com, .net, or Internet, the companies outdid the @Net Index by an average of 25%.
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