Our ISP got a wee write up in
The Channel Insider so I thought it would be interesting to provide a copy
of it here...
Down Home Hosting and International Business
October 7, 2004
Many U. S. Web hosting
companies are discouraged by the flow of business to cheap foreign service
providers, mostly based in Asia. But not Stephan R. May Jr., chief cook and
bottle washer of InKeeper Co. He gets
most of his business from Europe and Canada, with very little effort and an
eminently satisfactory ROI.
"I am pretty unique as it
relates to a small hosting business in the fact that 80+ percent of my
customers are from the foreign market, and that is the market I focus on,"
drawls the towering, cantankerous Celt from the Appalachian region of Pike
May has several reasons for
his business strategy, and some interesting tactics that readers can
replicate readily. Above all else, May is very selective about who he hosts.
"I am approached by foreign
customers on the average of at least four per week," he says. "After review,
I may agree to host two or three of these per month. Sometimes I don't
accept any of them, to be honest.
"A customer that hosts here
has to be a good fit for me, the host. I tend to take on folks who are just
getting into the [hosted Web site] side of things so I can work with them to
build a kick-ass Internet presence. That is what I most enjoy."
The maxim "Do what you love
and the money will follow" works for May, who enjoys income three to four
times higher than Pike County's per capita income, and the concomitant
cost-of-living benefits. He also chooses customers who fit his lifestyle.
"Folks also need to be able
to deal with all the weird hours and such I work."
A night owl by nature, May
finds Greenwich Mean Time and its contiguous time zones suit his biological
clock well. He is able to deal with customers while at his peak efficiency,
rather than short-changing them during that first cup of morning java. He is
available for sales inquiries when most of his stateside competitors are
asleep—generally a favorable market position. May chooses customers with
whom he can communicate most effectively, too.
"A customer also needs to be
able to deal with the straight-shooting, no-nonsense, attitude I have," May
Plain English, stripped of
marketing hype and techno-babble excuses, minimizes problems that can arise
from cultural and language discrepancies. While May finds Europeans more
amenable than U.S. clients to his "tough love" CRM (customer relationship
management) style, that's as far as he goes toward the fetish market.
"I do not host porn sites.
The money is there, but the problems and bandwidth issues just don't
balance. I guess if I went and dropped a couple of T-3's in here I could
probably make some sweet money, but that market is just not for me."
Instead, the ornery
entrepreneur selects a surprisingly colorful clientele.
"One of my premier customers
is Alastair McIntyre. He owns
Electric Scotland Ltd. We met almost 10 years ago at the first AOP
[Association of Online Professionals] conference. I was just getting into
the hosting business after the BBS days, and he was shutting his BBS down
and going with a germ of an idea for a Scottish reference site," May says.
"Costs in Scotland prohibited
Alastair from bringing in the bandwidth he needed for the project, and I had
two T-1's. We made a deal."
are government-run monopolies in most of the Eastern Hemisphere.
Predictably, service is poor and dear. May is able to undercut any
profitable European hosting service no matter what currency exchange rates
do, while having things mostly his way.
However, the InKeeper's way
is not a mechanistic business of discrete transactions repeated as rapidly
as possible, like most U.S.-born business models. It's more attuned to the
European way of doing business, in which the full spectrum of a relationship
is brought into play to mutual benefit, without undue concern for ledger
"During [McIntyre's] heavy
building and development years [roughly five years of gathering a lot of
content and playing with different ideas], I saw very little income from
him," allows May. "But he brought me quite a number of hosting customers, so
it evened out."
Europeans take a much longer
view of history and the future than their U.S. counterparts do. May's
patience and personal interest in each carefully selected client pay off in
the long haul that most U.S. firms now ignore.
"[Electric Scotland] started
with maybe 10 to 20 visits per day, and even after five years we were up to
only around 1,000 or so," May says. "We both then started to do a lot of
serious work together and for the last four years, Electric Scotland has
been Alastair's primary source of income. I started seeing a good revenue
stream from him at this time also," in addition to the many referred clients
who remain with InKeeper.
The Electric Scotland site
now receives 40,000 unique visitors per day. The original site has split
into numerous subsidiaries full of specialized content, further expanding
"Electric Scotland is the No.
1 Scottish reference site out there, and his
Scottish Search Engine is ranked in
the top 10 search engines for Scottish stuff," says May.
Getting paid is seldom a
problem for May. His fees comfortably absorb currency conversion charges and
exchange rate fluctuations, and even the PayPal fees deducted from the
majority of his receipts. Credit cards and electronic bank transfers account
for the rest. A client rarely lets May's invoices slide too long, for
"I just send past-due clients
a notice that includes my wire-transfer routing number," shrugs May. "If I
don't see money in my account within 24 hours, I pull the plug. That gets
"One feller e-mailed back to
me, 'You wouldn't really do that.' I just replied, 'My finger is on your
server's power switch even as I type this one-handed.' A few seconds later,
PayPal notified me of an Instant Payment."