A Conversation with Allen Shay, Co-Founder and President of CyberSpa
Allen Shay is the co-founder and president of CyberSpa, a Baltimore-based software technology company that develops tools for automating hard drive replacement and offers PC services through its business and charitable partners. CyberSpa’s service delivery solution, FreshStart, enables providers to offer best in class PC service through an automated program that takes about an hour to perform, but only about 15 minutes of hands-on time.
Q. How did CyberSpa get its start?
A. We started up almost five years ago. The company is focused on developing very specific tools for supporting and servicing and providing security solutions for Microsoft PCs. We are now on our second generation set of products. We have released those products commercially, they are in the market, and we are in an expansion mode now.
Q. What inspired you to start the company?
A. I am a bit of a part-time serial entrepreneur. I took time out from corporate life about 15 years ago to start up a company that focused on technology that was being spun out of an NSA program. I was involved in and I set up my own company—my second startup company— to help the defense intelligence community (which has been my primary market for 35 years) to find and acquire interesting cyber security technologies from around the world. That company was called Prescint. And in the process of that, searching and going to Israel and London and places all over looking for the latest and greatest in cyber technology, I came upon an idea that just would not leave my head. That idea became CyperSpa, so I sold Prescint and started up CyperSpa with the help of good friend of mine and an angel investor and have not looked back since.
Q. How would you characterize the early days at CyberSpa? Were there challenges in securing investments?
A. When we first got started, a good friend of mine—who was one of the senior executives at Booz Allen—put in a quarter of a million dollars in investments. So I invested in the company, obviously. From that point on our investors were mostly people that came out of the tech community and who we were familiar with cybersecurity and the kind of IT defense market that I had worked with over a period of time before. When I told them what we were building and why it was pretty easy to attract people, they said “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. There is a need for that.” So it was really mostly friends and family through the industry.
One of the interesting investors that we have is the Abell Foundation. Abell looked at us over four years ago and did a very thorough analysis of the company. They felt like we were little early on then, and I think they were right. Now that we have released our second generation product and have been in the market for a good while, delivering tens of thousands of services, they were able to come back and take another look at us. This time they said, “Well, this really makes sense.” And they made a investment.
Q. What stage is the company in right now?
A. 2015 will be a big growth year for us because the last four years has really been primarily paid pilots and testing of the technology. We have been paid by a couple Fortune 100 companies to test and evaluate the technology over the last three years, but now that it’s in the marketplace. We are already collecting revenues now, shipping out hard drives with the software on it and license keys to service providers all over the country. I should say not just all over the country—we have customers in Canada and Australia, so we are actually delivering our license keys and software in other countries as well.
Q. Tell us about what you have built. How do CyberSpa’s solutions work?
A. What we are offering to our customers worldwide is a way to double the life of their computers at a dramatically lower cost than actually having to go out and buy a new computer every three to four years—which is what a lot of companies do now. Computers just slow down because of all the issues of malware, viruses, etc., and the fact that hard drives die out about twice as fast as computers do. So there is this planned obsolescence in the PC that a lot of people are unaware of but companies are. Typically after three or four years people literally throw away perfectly good computers. Our product and our service allows someone to come in and do a very fast very comprehensive hard drive replacement, doubling the life of that PC. That moved us into having to find channels that service the consumer and small business market, which led us to the big box stores, which led us to the Association of Computer Repair Business Owners and 40,000 independent businesses. We are also currently pursuing a program opportunity to set up what amounts to FreshStart Service Centers in shopping malls, working with non-profit organization.
We are delivering technologies that allow people to come in regardless of what is wrong with their PC, unless it’s just broken hardware. We do not do broken hardware. But for anything else, you select this service and this is what you are going to get: it is going to be very comprehensive and cyber secure, and at the end of the day your cost is $69. If you need a complete hard drive replacement, say you want to double the life of your PC, you drop off the machine in the morning and when you come back and get it your old machine it will run better than it did when you bought it. It is going to have a brand new hard drive and brand new software, everything is going to be where you left it, and you will receive your old drive back as a backup. All that costs $150. What we really want to do is make sure that, particularly consumers—small businesses, and not just those in America—can come to a place get a service that is very comprehensive, very cyber secure, protects the privacy of their data and gives them the opportunity to use that device, which is a workhorse for them, safely and securely.
Q. Could you describe FreshStart?
A. FreshStart was actually was the name of our original product. What we have released as FreshStart we call FreshStart HD—that’s our internal name. The reason we completely redesigned, rebuilt, and launched that product is because we discovered a problem in our first phase of the product release, which was primarily targeted at doing services at a big box retailer. The problem that we discovered with that implementation is that it required a very large work station as well as equipment to be there behind the counter, and the first generation of product took several hours for the service to complete. So what we did was we reengineered the product internally. We basically started from scratch to come up with a software implementation of the product that allows for a better service to be delivered in an hour or less.
Q. What is your strategy for growing your customer base?
A. Our channel strategy is pretty simple. What we are looking at is establishing relationships with both local and national service delivery providers. We are a purely B2B company, so what we’re developing software and tools that would be delivered by independent service providers or large corporate service providers. There are over 40,000 independent PC repair shops around the country. Each one of those hears about us through their industry association, email campaigns, or other directed advertising channels. If they come to our website, look at the product, and understand the benefits of it, they actually contact us. We set them up as a reseller of the product and in that process they get access to our videos, logos, brochures, etc.—all of the marketing material. What the better of those folks usually do is immediately set up a FreshStart page on their website, so if you go to Joe’s PC repair shop in Tucson, Arizona all of a sudden up will pop a FreshStart page with our logos and the information on the service and its benefits because they are marketing to their local customers. Then, once we have got enough of these independents signed up around the country, we are actually going to begin some direct marketing campaigns to drive people to our FreshStart website, mypcfreshstart.com. That is our nationwide small business consumer site. We have not really been advertising on it yet because we feel like we have to have at least 700 or 800 service providers around the country to effectively use that channel.
– See more at: http://baltimore.citybizlist.com/article/261376/a-conversation-with-allen-shay-co-founder-and-president-of-cyberspa-part-ii#sthash.kcGgE3K7.dpuf
Connect with Allen Shay on LinkedIn.
CyberSpa invites readers to join the company for an open house at its new offices in Federal Hill this Thursday, April 23rd, from 4–7pm. Learn about the new space, meet the new team members and business partners, and share in light refreshments. The dress is casual, and attendees are welcome to come by at any time they can. Full address below:
– See more at: http://baltimore.citybizlist.com/article/261140/a-conversation-with-allen-shay-co-founder-and-president-of-cyberspa-part-#sthash.DLY9HbYf.dpuf