Ask Gabe Damiani when the economy will turn around for tech companies like his, and he’s got a ready answer: 2011.
That’s the year, he says, that hunkered-down companies will start spending again on technology upgrades.
He predicts they’ll spend big on the “virtualization” services his company sells — tech tools used to create centralized data centers and connected desktops designed to give iVision customers more computing power with less equipment.
This virtual network structure — often referred to as “cloud” computing — lets companies avoid the expense of putting PCs on every desk; allows for easier upgrades and security monitoring; and allows centralized storage of huge files that several people on a project will use. Damiani says that last feature has been particularly valuable to his law firm customers, who store thousands of pages of documents that must be accessible to lawyers as well as to the employees of their clients.
In fact, law firms were among iVision’s first clients when Damiani and his partner, Stuart Cartin, started the company in a spare room in Damiani’s house in 2004. He touts the $2.5 million iVision recently helped Kilpatrick Stockton save, in part by winnowing the Atlanta law firm’s spread-out collection of 280 servers down to 10.
Even in the recession, iVision found customers willing to spend for the promise of such savings. The company’s revenue was $6.2 million in 2008, and Damiani expects 2009’s final sales total to hit $8 million. That growth earned iVision the 473rd spot on the 2009 Inc. magazine list of the country’s 500 fastest-growing privately held firms.
Q: You have a lot of lawyers as clients. How did that happen?
A: Over the last two years we have gotten pretty diversified, but we got our start in legal. ... I had numerous relationships there, but I felt like legal took an approach like we took to working with customers. We take a very partnering approach, not a transactional approach. When we sit down with a customer, it’s very relational, very strategic. From the beginning, we were very comfortable with that way of doing business.
Q: How much of your client base is now law firms?
A: I’d say 40 [percent] to 50 percent.
Q: How do you compete with much bigger firms using “cloud” computing, such as Microsoft?
A: You hear every day about cloud computing. Our take is, these companies have organized under the Distributed Management Task Force to come up with what cloud standards are, so there really are no external cloud standards today. ... There are not any standards around security and lines of demarcation. Inevitably, if that is a requirement in your line of business, it doesn’t really fit. What we have been focused on is building an internal cloud that allows them [customers] to have flexibility and control and still take advantage of the lower cost of cloud computing.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge?
A: Getting our customers to understand that the service level is important, not having a warm body sitting there. Getting customers comfortable with knowing that we’re on it. Just shifting the mind-set. I can see a day where we would hire people out of Macon and Augusta, and they will just be virtually connected.
Q: How many employees do you have now?
A: Twenty-seven full-time employees and 18 affiliates [contractors].
Q: How many of your employees work virtually now?
A: About a quarter.
Q: How did you finance the start up of your company?
A: It was all self-funded. I had some savings, my retirement. [Co-founder] Stuart Cartin had some savings. It’s funny, I had a Web domain, Damiani.com, that I sold to an Italian jeweler, Casa Damiani. They make jewelry for the rich and famous. I ended up selling my domain to them and investing that money in the business.
Q: So, you had just registered the domain sometime in the past?
A: Yeah, in the mid-’90s I got Damiani.com. And then a few years later, an attorney in Milan was calling me.
Q: How much did you get for the domain name?
A: It netted out at close to $30,000.