Sunday, August 20, 2000

NEW ECONOMY


Start-up entering a new universe

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        Dan Meyer figured it was time to grow up.

        The software company he heads was called Giage Inc. — a loose acronym for “Guys In A Garage.”

[photo] Copernus president and CEO Dan Meyer said his company needed a new name because it had grown from its days as guys in a garage.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        “It's a good name for a start-up company. It's catchy,” he said. “We as a company are no longer about guys in a garage. We've clearly evolved beyond that stage.”

        Monday morning the old “Giage” name on the company's downtown offices will be covered by a banner bearing the new name, “Copernus Inc.” That's like Copernicus, the Polish mathematician and astronomer who in the 1500s explained how the Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way round.

        The company's view of the universe is also changing. “It's definitely more than just a change in the name,” Mr. Meyer said. “It's really a change in who we are and what we do in the marketplace.”

        Giage was known for a program called WebSpace. A user could organize information, regardless of its format or its location: word processing documents or graphics, documents on the Web, documents on the company network.

        But WebSpace was made for desktop computers and cost $149. Despite good reviews, desktop applications such as WebSpace are difficult to sell in sufficient numbers to make them profitable.

        “That's a war that's very difficult to win,” said Tim Schigel of Blue Chip Venture Co., one of Copernus' investors.

        The company has taken the basic WebSpace concepts and moved them to the Internet. The product is being sold as a service for business-to-business (B2B) portals and marketplace sites.

        The idea is to build “personal decision webs,” Mr. Meyer said. The sites become centers for the information their users need to make buying decisions, increasing site traffic and transactions, he said.

        “As this B2B space grows, then we become a more significant infrastructure player in this space,” Mr. Meyer said.

        It works like this: A saleswoman might have e-mails, spreadsheets and presentation materials on her hard drive, contracts on the company network, a client's financial information found on the Web, as well as plane reservations, hotel reservations and directions to the client's office.

        The Copernus product allows that saleswoman to build a list of these documents on the Web, organized in any way necessary. Users drag-and-drop document icons onto lists, or use menus to organize information. Documents will reside on Copernus' servers in Cincinnati, making them accessible from anywhere. The software also has a “share” feature, allowing documents to be shared with others.

        “This was something the Giage customers really were encouraging us to do — move to an Internet-driven model,” said Clare Price, vice president of marketing. “One of the things they liked about the product is the ability to use it for organization, and they wanted the ability to share it more with other people. With the desktop (program), you can't do that.”

        The product ties into a movement on the Internet to let people personalize their experience, and the change in structure of the product also changes how it's sold.

        “We immediately are going from a few thousand users, some of whom are paying, to a couple of big customers paying tens of thousands just to be a beta site,” Blue Chip's Mr. Schigel said.

        Copernus is testing the product with several customers. One is e-IDC.com, an information exchange and marketplace for the construction industry. Ms. Price said Copernus has contracts with two yet-unnamed customers, and pending deals with three more.

        Pricing starts at $100,000 annually for small Web sites, and is tiered upward based on the size of the site and traffic.

        The change in its business meant Giage needed a new identity, Mr. Meyer said. It worked with Bridge Agency of Cincinnati to choose a new name.

        “You really want your name to promote your value, and to reinforce your identity in the marketplace and your positioning,” he said. “We needed an identity that was much more powerful, much stronger in a corporate world and much less consumerish.”

        The name Copernus “was such a strong corporate identity. It is very New Economy,” he said. “It has some connotations tied back to Copernicus, who redefined what is the center of the universe. That really helps communicate our value. ... In people's decisioning process, the information and knowledge about these decisions revolves around them, through our service.”

        Copernus will further develop the service through its pilot customers, then roll out a larger sales effort next year. Full-page ads for the company will begin to run in New Economy business magazines Red Herring, the Industry Standard and Business 2.0 within a few weeks.

        Marketing will include an increased presence at trade shows, and Copernus will soon announce a partnership with a local company to help build its business, Mr. Meyer said.

        The company this year secured $5 million in venture financing from Blue Chip, the Walnut Group and CID Equity Partners. It now has 40 employees in its Ninth Street offices, with Ms. Price in San Francisco.

        Mr. Meyer said planning for the next round of financing will take place by the end of the year. How big that round will be depends on how successfully the company sells its service over the next few months.

        E-mail John Byczkowski at johnb@enquirer.com, or call 768-8377. Find a list of local New Economy companies at Enquirer.com/neweconomy.
       



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