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Metabyte Crafts One More Silver Bullet
Harish Revanna
Monday, October 1, 2007
Tucked away at the grassy edge of the scenic Northern California foothills a few miles from Metabyte’s Fremont headquarters is the historic community of Niles, a once-thriving moviemaking hub during the early days of cinema. Ninety years or so ago you would have strolled its small-town America main street alongside the likes of Charlie Chaplin and the first great western movie star, Broncho Billy Anderson. Many of the rustic 19th and early 20th century buildings where these early movie stars lived, dined and shopped still remain, but these days they are occupied by trendy restaurants, boutique antique shops, and specialty craft stores. Many of these businesses are beta customers of HotDoodle (www.HotDoodle.com), Metabyte’s latest innovation to be unveiled this month that provides an easy path to web presence for small businesses, entrepreneurs, clubs, schools and organizations without the tech hassle. Among these businesses in Niles, many of the owners built their own websites picking from a wide selection of ready-to-use HotDoodle templates. The busier ones got a helping hand from students at a high school in Fremont and a university in Texas. One even got help from a stay-at-home mom in Idaho.

“How often don’t small businesses come across the passing thought of having a web presence their own?” asks Manu Mehta, the President and CEO of the 14-year old technology services company whose normal clients are Fortune 500 and midsize companies. “Many small businesses are held back because they see the website creation process as expensive and cumbersome, or they simply don’t know how to go about finding a web designer. Or, even if they manage to get a website built, they don’t have the time or skill to make changes to keep their website current later on.” Mehta is currently banking on his vision that given a customer-friendly technology every good gardener, teacher, local basketball team, residential club and school would want their offerings to be stated out in the open on a web space of their own. And HotDoodle is the breakthrough technology that could turn every web savvy teenager, college student or a stay-at-home parent into a helpful resource to help small businesses get there.

With IDC’s research estimating 24 million people running home-based businesses and many more millions of small business existing in the U.S, plus the rising onslaught of single entrepreneurs, there is a huge white space in the small business website category. “We often think internet has become ubiquitous, but strangely some of our own backyard small enterprises and entrepreneurs do not have a website even,” says Mehta. HotDoodle is positioned to garner business across this huge market segment in the coming years.

Oddly, and historically, small businesses have been an elusive market. A few early bloomers of internet who have tried to make it happen succeeded in garnering mind share of large enterprises, but gathered moss addressing the mass of businesspeople. “HotDoodle,” says Mehta, “irons out all the pain points of creating a website and helps millions of web savvy people to turn into an army of web designers and use HotDoodle as a marketplace to target the demographic sweet spot with innovative technology.”

Hot about Doodle
At the heart of HotDoodle is its modular and scalable technology that lets one design websites in the most simplistic way ever. “Our architecture is based on a Lego-like building block concept. We have blocks for every possible feature one could think of on a website – text, pictures, bulletin boards, blogs, log-in screens and more. All customers need to do is choose and arrange these functional blocks and edit them in their own words,” says Lynn Slater, the chief architect of HotDoodle. It is also ideal for group collaboration – a benefit for schools, clubs and organization that might divvy up website tasks among its users.

Metabyte’s unique combination of a modular technology and a group collaboration model solves the problem of shortage of web designers. Be it the current keypad generation, college students, stay-at-home parents or even the baby boomers, whoever wants to earn from their home or a college dorm can doodle on this technology. Interestingly, neither do they have to own a keypad nor have an edgy programming skill to build the websites. It is zero-installation and do-it-yourself technology that Metabyte is bitten onto—meaning, no software to install but just a log in ID to doodle from any place at anytime.

In what accounts to be an innovative technology, Metabyte is cushioning a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business model to deploy HotDoodle. Not only does this offer everything what a customer, client or website requires in a robust datacenter, which is generally not affordable by small business, but also provides services at their disposal.

Making Innovation Work
The idea for HotDoodle technology was an outcome of two emerging-trends—written communications and the real time event notification. Like Gerry McGovern, a content-management expert noted in 2004, “Isn’t it interesting that some of the most significant ‘revolutions’ of the last twenty years have all had to do with writing? How retro is that? First we had email, then web pages, then mobile phone texting, and now blogs.” Lynn Slater, an engineer at Metabyte, seeing the buzz surrounding blogs three years back predicted that the new juncture on the written continuum would be websites as the blog era evolves.

It was Slater’s idea that Metabyte invested in to start HotDoodle. “It is our employees’ technology ideas that we have constantly hedged our money on,” says Mehta. Whether it is a competitive solution for a customer, off the shelf product, or independent Business Unit that is spun off from the Metabyte’s closet today, everything has solely emerged from its employee ideas.

In 1998, Metabyte’s Innovation Labs (an “employee innovation incubation center”) invented a method to record live television on a hard disk based on the idea proposed by one of its star employees working on key IT managed projects. The company soon identified the opportunity that lay in recording TV on a hard disk and built around technologies that also track the watchers viewing habits and record his program of interests automatically irrespective of whether he/she is watching it or not. The MbTV business unit, like the technology was known at Metabyte, became a huge hit that Thomson, Seagate, Canal Plus Technologies and Scientific Atlanta invested $20 million. “We were much earlier in time to invent this technology—even before TiVO—and we followed the unbranded business model to TiVo’s branded model,” says Mehta. MbTV technology today is being shipped in every Scientific Atlanta (now part of Cisco)’s cable set-top boxes and has a larger market share than TiVo in the U.S.

Recognizing Mehta’s effort to fund an innovative technology in the Digital Video Recording space, the Carmel Group in its “DVR Competitive Market Report” credited Mehta as one of two initial providers of seed money that kickstarted the DVR industry. The other person who shared this pioneering distinction was Paul Allen, the visionary co-founder of Microsoft, who was also trying to nourish the DVR industry and had funded TiVO.

Metabyte’s earliest success was the Wicked3D division that was spun off as a separate company focusing on the high-performance game enthusiast market. “We had done many performance optimization projects with semiconductor companies like AMD and the leading graphics controller companies at the time, on the 3D platform. And our learning lesson was native 3D chip companies missed optimizing the driver right for the graphic chip to perform well. Soon we turned that into an opportunity and built the Wicked3D,” says Bob McQuillan, Director of Product Marketing, who worked closely with the 3D team then.

Interestingly Metabyte has made entrepreneurs out of its employees for over a decade now. After certain technology gets some mileage in the industry, Mehta has consciously turned them into business units while promoting many of its developers to lead their respective units and increase their earnings. With MbTV and Wicked 3D most employees have garnered the founding status and made to run the business units as enterprises independently. Metabyte today amongst its employees is a company that takes daring ventures into making ideas work and building innovations around it.

“In all ways, we are what we are today solely because the strength that our core business offers us,” says Mehta talking about the company’s 14-year old technology services business. It is this service business that has constantly kept Metabyte’s Innovation Labs chugging not just with the right funding but also the ability to find an appropriate talent or offer continuous service for a newly developed technology.

Mehta sums up his philosophy on innovation—“Top talent has always been attracted to us, so we always have top talent analyzing diverse markets and trends. Second, our best innovations have been when two or more people saw the same thing but ended up defining something much different. Third, we have the ability to execute—to craft silver bullets for our customers. And since we are always doing cool things, we always have top talent. It is a virtuous cycle that makes innovation work.”

Mothership of Service
Metabyte started as a small consulting company in the early 90s with a shoestring budget. The sole aim was to craft innovative silver bullets to help their customers compete and win in the marketplace. Silver bullets, according to Mehta, go beyond just servicing, and take a step ahead in identifying problems that make huge impact on customers’ business.
“We did not want to do everything for everybody,” he says reasoning out how the company chose to specialize in four main verticals. While healthcare, biotech and pharmaceuticals are the more unconventional ones, banking and high technology form the money garnering behemoth verticals.

With clients like Genentech, Edward Life Sciences and DaVita up its sleeves, Metabyte today is venturing into a new project of online network for healthcare industry. While the project is right now in stealth mode, the grapevine is that it could be the company’s biggest venture ever in this vertical. Conventionally they have focused on doing the back office integration, customer relationship management and application development.

However, Metabyte’s biggest chunk of revenue today comes from this high technology conventional vertical. From the beginning the company has focused on hiring very skilled domain specific engineers to work on providing cutting edge solutions to its high technology customers like semiconductor, electronics, software and telecommunications companies.

“We have always strived to be that ‘destination employer’ for an IT professional when they want to stop doing generic services but focus on domain-specific solutions that address real business problems,” says Mehta. Metabyte uniquely capitalized on this trend of high-IQ individuals wanting to do that extra bit for their clients and also set up an R&D center (Metabyte Innovation Labs) where they could spend time on trying newer technology application.

Pawan Parihar, a senior programmer and analyst consultant at Metabyte’s client Openwave Systems, reminisces how Metabyte out of the many companies that offered him the right job in his specialized field of Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence. “Their job positioning and the ease with which they sponsor H1-B visas and green cards, are welcoming for any experienced professional aspiring to grow,” he says.

Manish Bharti, Head of Collaborative Commerce division based in Bangalore, India, emphasizes the importance his management team associates with every employee idea and the platform it provides to exercise it. “Our model of creating Business Units and spinning it off creates a very refreshing experience and a level playing field to every new employee who walks in with new ideas. Engineers can exercise them with little scruples, while the management bends backward in offering support,” he says talking about the difference in Metabyte as opposed to a big India based consultancy he just moved out from. Metabyte today has helped to create opportunities for many such techies trying to define their own career paths in life.

Across Metabyte’s hallway, on their “Innovation Hall of Fame” you can see their pictures adorning the wall. Whom Mehta calls, “a few able engineers who spawned exceptional technology ideas (Wicked3D, MbTV and now HotDoodle) and made it happen.”

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