When a company seems to come out of nowhere these days, launching with announcements of huge partnerships already secured, revenue flowing in and full-page ads in newspapers, it's said to be leaving "stealth" mode.
Techies like this word because it sounds sneaky but smart.
The executives of Simplexity.com Inc. of Reston decided on that plan, quietly building a business for the past year and then bursting out of their shell last week.
Sometimes start-ups are in stealth mode because a leading exec already has a day job he doesn't want to lose. Other times it means the company doesn't want to tip its hand to competitors or it has a problem that it hasn't quite figured out.
Chief executive Thomas Kilcoyne of Simplexity.com says he wanted to come out with a bang--and with some key partners already signed up.
The company's Web site is aimed at business, residential and home-office users looking for the best fit for telecom and Internet services. Users can compare plans and products, and submit requests for personalized bids from Simplexity's partners, which
include MCI WorldCom Inc., AT&T Corp., Sprint Corp., Cellular One Group and Bell Atlantic Corp.
At the moment the site offers comparisons for local, long-distance and wireless service, with plans to add ISP and Web hosting in the spring. Simplexity.com promises to be an unbiased site, not taking advertising from any company. The telecom companies pay Simplexity.com a one-time sign-up fee, then a percentage of the monthly phone bill for "business to business" customers and another set fee for each individual consumer.
A customer who expresses interest in, say, high-speed Internet access for a home line will be anonymous until he's chosen a carrier, so he won't have to worry about phone companies calling to sway their decision.
Kilcoyne, whose last job was vice president of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s e-commerce software division, says Simplexity's research found that customers are desperately seeking help to choose among plans. "They told us, 'I don't want to be a telecom expert,' " he says.
Simplexity.com also plans to offer market research information back to the carriers, such as finding that consumers asking for DSL has increased three times over the past six months.
Of course one problem with stealth mode is that you have to sit silently as the competition gathers speed--and customers.
Telezoo.com of Arlington, which launched about a year ago and this week announced a $3 million venture-capital investment from Lazard Technology Partners, offers a similar service geared toward businesses, plus comparisons of telecom equipment and high-tech degree programs. And Point.com Inc., based in Bothell, Wash., and Decide.com Inc. of San Jose crunch the numbers for individuals trying to figure out what telecom service or phone is best for them.
Kilcoyne says the telcom and Internet markets for small and home offices are especially attractive, because those places are low on staff and time but they need sophisticated communications services.
Also, he points out, large carriers such as AT&T have traditionally had a hard time selling to the small-office and home-office owners, because they are difficult to identify.
Kilcoyne hopes to find those workers through a second series of partnerships, many of which are also already formed. The largest of those is Best Buy Co., which will soon put Internet kiosks in its home electronics sections that will allow individual and small business owners to buy equipment, like a cell phone or hand-held organizer, and then immediately sign up for a wireless plan or e-mail for their Palm VII through Simplexity.com.
Best Buy has also invested $4 million in Simplexity.com. Other deals have been signed with the likes of CNet Inc., Yahoo Inc. and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which will all link to Simplexity.com's system. Best Buy has also been hiring stealthily: The fledgling company has 55 employees, 12 of whom are in California offices in Sunnyvale and Palo Alto and the rest in the high-tech hothouse of 11600 Sunrise. Those include area heavyweights Alan Peyser, former chief executive of Cable and Wireless USA, who's co-founder and chairman of Simplexity.com, and Bill Bellows, founder and former managing partner of Copithorne & Bellows Public Relations, who's chief operating officer.
Of course Simplexity.com already has venture capital funding, too--$1.5 million from a group led by Novak Biddle Venture Partners in Reston.
Tip of the day on avoiding venture capital: Forget to put your phone number on your business plan.
Christie Hart, marketing manager of Draper Atlantic in Reston, says that amazingly, five to 10 of the 50 or so plans Draper gets every week have no contact information.
"They say, 'Please give me a million dollars,' and there's no phone number," says Hart.
The plans are often beautifully bound, include a reference letter from a local big shot (with that person's contact information, of course) and have a compelling idea of how the entrepreneur wants to change the world. But they mysteriously omit a simple phone number, address or e-mail address.
Hart says so far no pitch has been so incredible that she has played detective to track the executives down. She says every time another one comes through she throws it in the mystery pile, in case someone calls to claim it. Why does it happen? "You get so close to what you're doing you forget the basics," says Hart.
She suggests putting contact info on the footer of the document, so it shows up on every page. And if you recognize yourself in this item, you should give Hart a call. Don't forget to leave your number.
The hot Indian CEO High Tech Council events are about to become more exclusive.
The council's networking gatherings, which seem to get bigger every time they meet, have been open to any local high-tech top executive, and most of the area's best-known luminaries seem to make it regularly to the dinners and cocktail parties.
The group is run by Cvent Inc.'s Reggie Aggarwal and MicroStrategy Inc.'s Sanju Bansal, who are both Indian, and has an all-South Asian board of directors including Intelsat's Chief Operating Officer Ramu Potaruzu and Signal Corp. chief executive Roger Mody. They want to keep the group a mixture of Indian and non-Indian execs. But with 900 members and counting, the group decided it had to set up some criteria to get in the door.
According to Aggarwal, these are factors the group will consider:
* Minimum company revenue of $8 million to $10 million or venture-capital backing of $3 million to $5 million.
* Minimum of 50 employees.
* Community or industry leaders, or leaders in the new economy.
* Ability to help mentor other young entrepreneurs.
The group has also signed up a new all-star 25-person board of advisers, including Nasdaq Stock Exchange President Al Berkeley, US Airways Inc. President Rakesh Gangwal, Friedman, Billings Ramsey Group Inc. President Russ Ramsey and Lucent Carrier Networks President Jeong Kim.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at email@example.com.
TechThursday columnist Shannon Henry will host a live Web chat today at 1 p.m. with Jane-Scott Cantus, managing director of headhunting firm Christian & Timbers, on what it takes to be a high-tech CEO. To participate, go to www.washingtonpost.com.
CAPTION: CEO Thomas Kilcoyne wanted Simplexity.com to hit the ground running.