When more than three dozen “movers and shakers” gather in one place, you can expect the kind of energy that lights up a room, especially when the group consists of ambitious, younger standouts in the world of local business.
That was the case last week, when The Tacoma Club Young Executives and Business Examiner Newspaper Group hosted an event recognizing this inaugural class of 40 Under 40. The energizing power was awe-inspiring, even to older guests at the gathering, who came away with assured that the future of the South Sound is in quality hands.
On the pages that follow, you will have the opportunity to meet this stellar crowd — presented here in alphabetical order — and get to know a little more about what is important to them. Remember that there is far more talent here than can be adequately described in words. When you see them at work, at service or at play in the community, take the initiative to meet them — you will be as impressed. And plan right now to make your own nominations for the 2004 40-Under-40 List when it comes round next spring.
Minister of Marketing Affairs, Zhonka Broadband
Year of birth: 1970
As a managing partner and marketing director of an Internet service provider, Dave Olson does a lot of document writing, including business plans, proposals, agreements, contracts, press releases, marketing collateral, letters, technical FAQs and media articles. He also oversees corporate governance and company financing issues under his title as Minister of Marketing Affairs.
“Additionally, I organize and implement advertising campaigns, special events and promotions including the free community wireless access surfbreaks,’ customer appreciation parties and donated access,” he explains.
“I aim to help grow Zhonka Broadband into an innovative and profitable ISP serving communities throughout the Northwest region,” Olson says.
“I would also like to finish my elusive Evergreen degree and perhaps attend law school at UBC specializing in intellectual property, international trade and arbitration. One way or another, I hope to continue to travel internationally and perhaps make another documentary film or two,” he adds.
Olson’s role models and heroes have always been writers, artists, activists and adventurers such as H.D. Thoreau, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, Walt Whitman, Edmund Hilary, Thor Heyerdahl, Leo Tolstoy, Vaclav Havel, Leo da Vinci, etc.
Co-founder/Technology guru, Zhonka Broadband
Year of birth: 1966
As an entrepreneur in a high-tech small business, Zhonka Broadband co-founder and Technology Guru Jacob Stewart finds that he wears many different hats at different times as necessitated by circumstance.
“As a managing partner of the LLC, I am Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technical Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief (insert any adjective) Officer, salesman, network architect, government relations, customer support representative,” he continues. “I am also office supply clerk and, sometimes, janitor.”
He feels the real gratification comes when the business starts to flourish after putting in so much time generating business plans and standards of practice, finding investors for funding, networking with the local business community and marketing our business directly to the community.
“That is the most fulfilling part of my job,” Stewart says.
Stewart was also co-founder and Vice-president of Information Technology and chairman of the board for ISP, Oly.Wa.net and currently serves as vice-president of Washington Association of Internet Service Providers, which helped push through the state’s anti-SPAM bill. He also serves as chairman of the board of the Washington State Internet Lobby.
“In the next 10 years, I would like to see Zhonka Broadband grow to be a major player and shaper of the high speed Internet access market throughout Washington State and the Northwest,” he says. “Our business plan includes conservative, yet steady, growth of our geographic service area to 10 states in the Northwest and Midwest region.”
Stewart would also like to formalize his college degree by getting his credits transferred to one institution, so that he may graduate and continue graduate studies in management and the global economy.
He admits that he can’t point to any one person in his life who he tries to emulate or from whom he learned his business skills.
“I guess I feel my generation didn’t have a lot of heroes’ to emulate,” he explains. “We had to find inspiration on our own.
“I’d say that, if I wanted to point to someone as an inspiration to me today, it would be George Soros,” Stewart adds. “This international billionaire, financier, philanthropist, who grew up in Hungary during the harsh oppressive regimes of both the Nazis and the Soviet Union, has my respect.”
Stewart says his admiration of Soros stems from both his financial success and his advocacy of a civil “Open Society.”
“He had a philosophy that espoused openness,” says Stewart, “and condemns totalitarianism and tyranny in all its forms, in both the social and financial spheres of politics.”
Just starting into a weblog feast thanks to Ben and Jay but ya know i have been a little apprehensive about doing so and i think there is a few reasons for this …1) i hesitate to be too self-indulgent and ego-centric. ya see now … in the last 12 months, my media manipulation skills resulted in excess coverage in national magazines, local newspapers, films and myriad websites and public access shows. i really do enjoy this kinda stuff cause i have a lot to say but sometimes i feel as though it reflects on me in a less than favorable manner like i am “pimping my own dojo” too much. in reality, i tend to be rather self-deprecating and sincere to a fault and don’t want to be that guy who is always cheesing out and boosting his own jive scene.
2) words are important things and are not to be trifled with. As a writer (aren’t we all …) and a reader i place almost undue reverence on the written word and tend to spend months doing a “big project” and feel “small projects” along the way aren’t as worthy. when i see my work published in a magazine and recall the hours i spend editing and researching, i am pleased momentarily. when i sit to write, i am motivated by the feeling that i am sharing an epistle with an yet unknown audience. this weblogging is much more immediate and i don’t much care for being caught with my pants down (well sometimes hehe) for lack of editing and consideration.
3) finding myself being an internet entrepreneur type again, there is always 15 “urgent” things on my list thus i feel my priority is doing that stuff whether is be creating ads, fundraising, writing business plans, proposals, contracts and letters, moving furniture, wiring offices, understanding command prompt TELNET on my mac osx (no laughing) to program a DSL router or improving my joint rolling skills. at the end of it all, the ‘puter (though a fine tool) and i need a little reboot time away from one another.
4) i reckon i am a veteran weblogger in that i publish most everything i write and finish in one form or another on-line and have been doing so since i borrowed an HTML book from Scottyo and posted my first hemp in japan website. shoot, i got stories i wrote in 11th grade are on-line and i am olden now. plus my works from evergreen, menu magazine, high times, photo galleries from the Olympic winter games and cannabis cup, even the infamous Uncleweed story are available for public amusement. i do like transparency and don’t mind people knowing what it is that i do (though i hope none of my youth hockey team players come across tooo much ;-) don’t need no irate parents).
i suppose, in recent years my use of the internet as a gutenburg-press-like publishing renaissance tool is well manifest in my fantasy sports leagues participation, particularly in the hockey league where i am currently battling some mystery team for the virtual Stanley cup. the players i choose and the manner in which in manage my team evolved over years of careful study and somewhat reflects my personality – i don’t like superstars or streaky inconsistency types, i like hard-workers who chip in every game and score in clutch situations. plus i avoid players from teams i don’t care for and relish finding the young break-through player before anyone else.
now that i have moved into the new/old office, my routine will facilitate more entries as i aim to make this a tool to post many of the lists that i am wont to make. perhaps we shall see my favorite books/authors, films, road-trips, countries visited, brushes with fame, fave tokes and other such info “for the record.” i realize my space-time continuum is often skewed so i it behooves me to post anecdotal discourse publicly before the senility gets any worse.
Article by Alex Goff for the Olympian about Zhonka’s plans. Features picture of Zhonka co-founders, Jay Stewart and Dave Olson, enjoying wireless Internet access at the Clubside Cafe with proprietor Kenny Trobman.
ALEX GOFF FOR THE OLYMPIAN
A second chance can be a golden opportunity, or so Jay Stewart and Dave Olson hope.
Former managing partners of South Sound Internet service provider OlyWa.net, Stewart and Olson sold that business to California-based Advanced TelCom Group, or ATG, in 2000.
Stewart and Olson stepped away from the business altogether. And ATG has since filed for bankruptcy, and most of its assets have been purchased by General Electric.
Now, Olson and Stewart are back and have moved into the old OlyWa.net offices and set up Zhonka Broadband — an Internet service provider offering digital subscriber line (DSL) services to subscribers in Western Washington.
## SIDEBAR ##
Internet service provider with monthly rates from $15 to $40.
– Owners: Jay Stewart and Dave Olson – Location: 1430 Evergreen Park Lane,
– Telephone: 360-701-6958 – Web site: www.zhonka.com
“We’ve sort of come full circle,” Stewart said. “But we’ve learned a great deal in the meantime. We spent the better part of the last six months working on our business plan and looking for investors. The lessons we’ve learned have allowed us to cut our costs considerably.”
Zhonka sees itself as a competitor to providers such as MSN, which has similar monthly rates. Zhonka offers no content, but plenty of bandwidth and service.
“It’s just a big, fast pipe,” Olson said. “We’re the friendly local guys who support the community with all the perks of some of the larger ISPs.”
Zhonka manages its own network, monitors outages and handles questions. Stewart said other ISPs depend on the phone company to do much of that.
By using techniques such as e-billing and concentrating on the type of faster connection most customers seem to want, Stewart said operating costs will be about a tenth of what OlyWa’s were. The pair has about a dozen subscribers since launching two weeks ago, and expects to break even at about 500.
That number is certainly attainable — OlyWa had 1,500 — Olson said, because “there’s a big demand for a local ISP.”
“We see a clear need in the market,” Stewart said. “Consumers are faced with a choice between impersonal, out-of-state providers and well-meaning, but often underpowered, local firms. We’ve designed Zhonka to fill this void by offering cutting-edge services coupled with responsive customer support.”
Which begs the question: Why did Olson and Stewart sell to ATG?
“It seemed like a good marriage,” Olson said. “And there were some cost savings involved. But ATG’s model turned out not to be our model of doing things.”
A big part of the Zhonka model is being part of the community — whether that is providing services and Web page space for nonprofits or setting up complimentary wireless Internet access points in various downtown locations.
Zhonka’s laptop and palmtop users can access the net at cafes wirelessly. The zones already have been set up at The Other Guys’ Internet cafe and the Clubside Cafe, both on Fourth Avenue in downtown Olympia. Zhonka is in discussions with Olympia Farmers Market for a hookup there also.
“It’s certainly an emerging technology, and it’s also something that gives us a presence in downtown,” Olson said. “I was down at the Clubside Cafe the other day and listening to the Vancouver Canucks game on Web radio.”
“The key part of it is to make sure there are no interruptions,” Stewart said. “When we got everything connected, I would log on to a radio site like National Public Radio and keep it on for 24 hours to ensure it’s a smooth connection. People are willing to pay more for good and fast connections. They don’t want interruptions.”
Stewart and Olson moved back into their old offices because of the fiber optic line already installed there, but it’s been a strange reunion.
“There’s a little bit of deja vu involved, that’s for sure,” Olson said. “But we’ve seen a lot with the bottom dropping out of the Internet economy and new technologies coming through. We’ve learned a lot about making the Internet efficient.”
Story by Chris Simunek and Preston Peet Photos by Comso G. Spacely
These are not party schools for stupid stoners, but places where intelligent users of cannabis can receive a quality education. What’s the difference? Smart stoners use the herb when appropriate, either as a tool to enhance creativity, or as a medicine to relieve stress, while stupid stoners abuse it through inappropriate use.
#1 EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE
Founded in 1967
$12,264 non-resident tuition
Fiske rates it the #4 public liberal-arts college; student-to-faculty ratio: 22 to 1
Mother Nature reigns supreme in the Pacific Northwest. Sure, the lumber companies have been trying for years to turn its beauty into napkins and newspapers, and there are the unnatural acts committed by the odd serial murderer–Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer were both particularly fond of the Cascade Mountains–but after mankind is done carving his mark on this particular part of the Earth, the forest is sure to swallow him up body and soul. This sense of permanence is perhaps one reason Washington is called “the Evergreen State.”
Walking through the rainforest that separates the Evergreen State campus from the sea, you get the feeling that you’ve found the halfway point between Darwin and Eden. The forest is primordially damp, insects swarm your head and the terra firma beneath your feet is exploding with life. Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees arch towards the sun, dripping with vines and moss. At the same time, the rainforest is reclaiming the borrowed molecules of the dead, slowly folding them back into the soil from whence they came.
Occasionally a hairy figure can be seen darting between the flora and fauna, causing my heart to leap at the thought that I’d finally fulfilled my lifelong dream to observe a Sasquatch in its natural habitat. Upon further inspection, I’d see that the beast was actually wrapped in colorful, loose-fitting clothing and that its long hair was matted into dreadlocks–the de rigueur look of the Evergreen student. Maybe next time, I think, then continue walking.
The leader of this rainforest expedition is Dave Olson. I first contacted Dave after a Google search of “Evergreen State” and “cannabis” spit his name across my Macintosh screen back in New York. Though his hair is kind of wild these days and a thick beard covers most of his face, you can’t pigeonhole Dave as a hippie.
He’s kind of a Renaissance guy who can speak at length on anything from ecology to music to pro hockey. A Vancouver, B.C. native, Dave is a member of what’s known as “the extended Evergreen family,” which comprises grads, non-grads, part-time students and people thinking of attending part-time. As part of his curriculum at Evergreen, he wrote, produced, directed and narrated a video documentary, The Hempen Road. The movie explores hemp from all angles, including the activist community, hemp products, food and history.
“Where’d you get the idea for your film?” I ask.
“I lived in the Pacific for three-four years, mostly Japan. I was doing hemp stuff the whole time, doing research. When I got back to America, I realized there weren’t any contemporary films that showed the products and the people and the culture. So I met this Japanese film student and we started talking about this project. He wasn’t really familiar with hemp, and was a little apprehensive about getting involved with it because of the negative connotations. I wrote up a proposal and shopped it around to different faculty.”
Though Dave found his faculty sponsor to be less enthusiastic than he would have liked, he was motivated enough on his own to see the project through to completion. He printed 2,000 copies, did a little publicity and sold them himself at hemp events.
“Before I came here I thought it was going to be an arts and literature and humanities focus, but that’s not really the case,” Dave explains. “The science stuff seems pretty heavy. There’s a lot of marine biology. A lot of people come here wanting to do stuff about forests and conservation and that kind of ‘ecosystem, organic farm and herbology’ kind of stuff. The strength is the multidisciplinary approach. It weans you into learning something that you didn’t really plan on learning, by bringing it in with something that you really want to learn.”
“Multidisciplinary” is the buzzword at Evergreen. It basically means you choose a subject you want to study, then the school encourages you to tackle it from several different angles. You find a professor at the school who you can work with on an independent-study-type basis, then go off on your own. There’s no tests to cram for, just a final project at the end, which can be anything from a paper to a performance to a piece of art.
We finally make it through the woods to the beach, which is empty on this day because most students are busy studying for their finals. The beach is clothing-optional, Dave informs me, and on a hot day you can often find undergrads smoking herb and working on their tans.
“I spent my college years in New York City,” I inform Dave. “For entertainment we used to watch the rats outside our dorm-room window teaming through the McDonald’s trash piles.”
“Evergreen provides a country-club atmosphere at a state-school budget,” he cracks. Tuition goes for $1,008 per quarter for Washington residents, $3,588 per quarter for out-of-staters, relatively cheap when compared with other schools.
I asked a few kids I’d met to estimate what percentage of Evergreen students smoked pot, and most answered somewhere in the 80% range. Given the surroundings, it just makes sense. There are no frats and little sports, so the bonehead scene is thankfully kept to a minimum.
My head is still buzzing from the William’s Wonder we sampled before arriving on campus when I ask Dave if Evergreen is a serious school or a refuge for burnouts.
“People work hard and play hard here,” he responds. “You see them at the bars until late, and then you see them on campus working late the next day.”
From the beach, we wander back to Evergreen’s own organic farm, kind of like a living textbook for their sustainable-agriculture program. According to the Evergreen bulletin, sustainable agriculture provides instruction in “soils, plant propagation, greenhouse management, composting, green manure, the use of animal manure, equipment operation, small-farm economics, pest control, livestock management, weed-control strategies, irrigation-system design and management, basic horticulture, machinery maintenance, vegetable and small-fruit culture, marketing and orchard systems.”
I can see where that might appeal to certain HIGH TIMES readers.
We tiptoe past the chickens, through the fields and greenhouses filled with lettuce, beets, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and tomatoes, until we find easygoing, bespectacled Pat Moore, professor and director of the farm. I ask him about how Evergreen differs academically from other schools. He explains that self-discipline is the key to success here.
“We get students who don’t fit in highly structured programs, and because of that, we’re going to get very bright and innovative students and we’re also going to get the exact opposite. If a student is motivated and interested in what they’re studying, they’re going to get an excellent education. If they’re trying to slide by, they’re going to find a way to do it.”
“As a faculty member, what was your reaction when you heard Evergreen had been voted counterculture college of the year by HIGH TIMES magazine?” I ask.
“Was it really? Gosh, it’s a little disconcerting actually. You probably won’t put this in your magazine, but I watch students as they arrive and what happens to them. A lot of them work for me three-four years, and it seems like they start getting a lot looser in terms of their ability to be reliable workers.”
“‘Cuz they smoke a lot of weed?”
“They don’t confide in me that way, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I’d prefer to see that than binge drinking. I mean, Washington U. had this big riot in the streets because of binge drinking, and a couple of kids died. Smoking a little pot, that’s not going to happen.”
That’s not to say Evergreen students don’t drink, and after we’re finished with the good professor, we head back to town and agree to reconvene at the Eastside later that evening to sample a few of the local microbrews.
The air alone is reason enough to move to Olympia–crisp Pacific winds that smell like fresh-cut cedar. On a clear day Mt. Rainier dominates the horizon from 100 miles away. It’s the capital of Washington, but still manages to keep a small-town atmosphere. It’s got a pretty happening nightlife scene–Fourth Avenue is plastered with flyers for reggae jams, karaoke, gay parties and retro nights. When we walk into the Eastside, it’s packed with undergrads playing pool and drinking beer. Kurt Cobain used to live here in the early days of Nirvana, and the grunge look is still alive, with flannel shirts covering parts of the crowd.
Kenny the bartender pours us a pitcher of Rasputin, a dark brew that’s as insidious as its mystic namesake. When word gets around that HIGH TIMES is in the house, I’m descended upon by so many students I can hardly remember anyone’s name. Without exception, everyone wants to tell me how cool their school is.
“I’m really glad that there’s a school like this in the world,” says Emily, a senior. “I wasn’t going to go to college. I was just out of high school. I’d spent my entire life since I was five years old in school. I wasn’t about to go back. Then I came out here, visited this school, walked around the campus, met some kids, talked to them, looked at their classes… I was like ‘dude, this place is awesome!’ It’s chill, you make your own classes up, you don’t get grades, people are mellow, it’s in a really beautiful place, there’s good herb, you know what I mean?”
Emily started out studying comparative religions, then switched to art and hopes to become an art therapist someday. When I ask her for a few tips on places to go off campus she suggests the Staircase (an outdoor nature refuge), Elwa hot springs, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic peninsula.
I ask another senior, Sarah, what sort of an education she thought she was getting. She told me Evergreen taught her “the things that high school left out. Such as how fucked up this world is. I’m kind of a glutton for the depressing stuff, so I mainly concentrated on things like, you know, saving the world. Really simple stuff.”
I ask her the names of a few classes she took and one stands out and cracks up everyone at the table–“Whiteness, Maleness and the Immorality of Wealth.” “The big myth is that kids at Evergreen major in underwater basket-weaving or hacky sack,” she explains. “But it’s true that my roommates spent a semester building eight-foot-tall sock monkeys.”
I start the next day with a tour of the Evergreen dorms. The kids are genuinely shocked when I knock on a few doors and announce HIGH TIMEs’ arrival. It takes me literally five minutes to find the herb–in this case some B.C. commercial bud. We speak a bit about the local strains, William’s Wonder and the Gangsta being favorites.
Talk turns to the campus police, who carry guns and who’ve been encouraged to step up their profile. The campus cops even print their own trading cards, and the kids actually show me a few with cops posing next to their favorite drug dogs.
“I heard the DEA was here,” one student informs me.
“I have a hard time believing the Feds are snooping around dorm rooms,” I tell him, but he insists it’s true.
“The cops are pretty cool, though,” he continues. “A fire alarm went off and the cops came in and found some dope on a kid. His punishment was to write an article about how to hide your shit in your house!”
I have a feeling I’m being treated to a few herban myths, but it’s true that the school is not too pleased about its cannabis-friendly reputation. In fact, after I left, the traditional graduation 4:20 on Super Saturday was shut down when rumors abounded that HIGH TIMES would be there to record the event for posterity. We were 3,000 miles away at the time, but the cops chased the kids into the woods. Sorry about that.
After the dorm tour I return to Red Square, the center of campus. There I meet Conner Kenny, a political economy major from Austin, Texas, currently in his first year at Evergreen. Conner is cranking a Bob Marley tape as he tries to get students to sign a petition to close mercury loopholes in the state’s clean-water laws. There’s a strong activist community on campus. In fact, the college caught a lot of flack a few years back when they invited Mumia Abu-Jamal to give a commencement speech via satellite from his prison cell. In the last year of his life, Ken Kesey also was the keynote speaker at graduation. Declaring Evergreen “the college for all hippies,” he gave a rambling speech that ended abruptly when he realized he’d lost the last two pages.
I’m running a little late for a planned photo shoot of the favorite local cannabis strains, but before I leave campus I ask Conner what role he thinks marijuana plays in the Evergreen education.
“It’s just part of the culture. People get together who feel the same way about things. Here, people would rather spend their time doing something other than spending money, making money and worrying about making money. It’s a rejection of the norms of consumer-driven society.”
Scott Wyland from The Olympian article again mentions Zhonka entering the market, “Former OlyWa employee Dave Olson, also unavailable for comment, has said he wants to launch an ISP called Zhonka Broadband, which would offer high-speed connections to Web users.”
Long-distance company ATG purchased
Integra officials say OlyWa service will not be disrupted
SCOTT WYLAND THE OLYMPIAN
Advanced TelCom Group Inc., a mid-sized carrier that gave callers an alternative to Baby Bells, has agreed to sell its assets to repay a chunk of its $206 million debt.
Portland-based Integra Telecom will take over most of ATG’s assets, which include property, equipment, customer accounts and labor pool.
Based in Santa Rosa, Calif., ATG two years ago bought OlyWa.net, a local Internet service provider.
ATG laid off OlyWa’s 10 employees by the time it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early May but continued to serve some 1,600 subscribers.
No disruption of service is expected under Integra, including to OlyWa customers, said Gary Cuccio, ATG executive chairman.
Cuccio said he took the helm at ATG six months ago in an attempt to turn the company around, but by then it was too late.
“We grew too fast,” Cuccio said. “We simply borrowed money that we were unable to pay back.” Integra representatives couldn’t be reached on Wednesday to discuss their plans for OlyWa.
Former OlyWa employee Dave Olson, also unavailable for comment, has said he wants to launch an ISP called Zhonka Broadband, which would offer high-speed connections to Web users.
Because of the Chapter 11 filing, the sale can’t be completed until all parties sign off on it, including ATG’s creditors, Cuccio said. That could take one day or several months.
Integra will have the option of changing the ATG name, he said. “Not much will be left of ATG.”
All told, ATG will receive about $20 million for its customer accounts and other assets, about one-tenth of what it owes 13 banks, Cuccio said. Creditors will have to eat the remaining debt, he said.
Three other buyers purchased a small portion of the assets: Cavalier Communications, of Richmond, Va.; Step 7, of Santa Rosa; and TelePacific Communications of Los Angeles.
ATG spiraled into the red when the slumping economy caused small to mid-size businesses — ATG’s main client base — to fold or pull back on spending, Cuccio said.
The mounting debt prevented the company from doing an initial public stock offering needed to boost capital, he said.
ATG had some success competing against big carriers such as 1/2 est, but it lacked the resources these large companies had for weathering an industry slide, Cuccio said. “I think when the downturn hits, they have deeper pockets.”
Article by Scott Wyland from The Olympian foreshadows start-up of Zhonka, “Olson and other OlyWa team members plan to launch a company called Zhonka Broadband, which will offer DSL to customers throughout Western Washington, with the focus being on South Sound.”
Staff laid off, service could be cut as parent company files Chapter 11
Although OlyWa.net’s work force was laid off due to ATG’s ailing finances, Dave Olson hopes he and some other former OlyWa employees can launch a new Internet service provider.
SCOTT WYLAND THE OLYMPIAN
Advanced TelCom Group Inc., which owns OlyWa.net, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that eventually could leave 1,550 local Internet subscribers without service.
Santa Rosa, Calif.-based ATG has laid off all 10 of OlyWa’s employees, plus a dozen ATG workers in its Olympia office.
Internet users who need technical support must call an 800 number.
Although ATG can solve most users’ problems over the phone, it has no one to maintain or repair the on-site equipment in Olympia, said Dave Olson, former OlyWa co-owner.
“Any hardware failures can’t be handled from afar,” Olson said. “Sooner or later something will happen.”
For instance, Monday he observed a server that handles e-commerce for a group of clients was down, he said.
To override the glitch, someone simply needed to reboot the computer — but there was no one there to do that, he said.
OlyWa is a lower priority for ATG, whose main thrust is offering callers an alternative to buying phone service from utilities such as Qwest, Olson said.
ATG will shut down OlyWa if it can’t find someone to buy the customer accounts, he said.
Two years ago, ATG bought then-5-year-old OlyWa for an undisclosed sum. One of the co-founders, Olson stayed on as a marketing manager.
Of the 25 workers who were employed locally after the merger, one or two salespeople and a phone installer remain, Olson said.
Jeannette Meyer, ATG finance director, said last week’s Chapter 11 filing would have no effect on telephone customers. That includes ATG’s subsidiary, FairPoint Solutions.
However, Meyer wouldn’t say how OlyWa subscribers would be affected.
She acknowledged that the filing compelled the company to reduce costs, including trimming staff. ATG closed offices in New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia.
Under Chapter 11, ATG must reorganize in such a way that it can pay off at least a portion of the debt owed creditors.
ATG now is on the hunt for a buyer and will hold off on cutting any more jobs, Meyer said, adding that a new owner could opt to lay off more workers after the sale.
Olson and other OlyWa team members plan to launch a company called Zhonka Broadband, which will offer DSL to customers throughout Western Washington, with the focus being on South Sound.
Olson said he had been waiting for a non-compete clause, which he signed when ATG bought OlyWa, to expire June 15.
But ATG’s Chapter 11 filing has nullified that agreement, at least in spirit, he said. So he plans to rev up the Zhonka venture immediately.
Zhonka, he said, will lure OlyWa users who either will grow dissatisfied with the diminishing service or find themselves with no Internet access if ATG pulls the plug.
Olson said he decided to base the venture on high-speed connections because dial-up modems, aside from being slower and less appealing, demand more workers.
ATG’s financial ills are a symptom of the malaise gripping the entire telecommunications industry, said Dennis Matson, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County.
Given the sluggish economy, telecom carriers are having difficulty drumming up capital to expand, Matson said. If a company doesn’t show vibrant growth, it can’t attract enough investors to do an initial public stock offering.
Matson bemoaned ATG’s ebbing fortunes, saying he encouraged the company to build a network in South Sound, so residents could have more telecom choices.
“For people in Thurston County, the more options, the better,” Matson said.
OlyWa.net subscribers with problems or concerns about their service can call Advanced TelCom Group at 800- 285-6100 or e-mail email@example.com.
Q & A with Kamila McClelland of the Business Examiner and Zhonka co-founder Dave Olson discussing mergers, Internet marketing, and new business plans.
Dave Olson was marketing director and partner in Olympia-based Internet service provider OlyWa, which was acquired by ATG, a telecommunications company that has Olympia and Tacoma locations. In the following question-and-answer, the Canada native shares the trials, tribulations and rewards of selling a business in which you’ve invested blood, sweat and tears.
Q: How did you first get involved with the founders of OlyWa?
A: I met the three founders of OlyWa at Evergreen’s Super Saturday shortly after I arrived in Olympia. They were selling tie-dyes and I was selling hemp backpacks.
They invited me down to the office to check out this Internet business they had started about six months before. They had already laid a solid technical foundation and gone through the initial ramp-up growth spurt. To complete the stew, OlyWa needed someone who could focus on customer service and marketing tasks.
Q: How much did OlyWa grow after you joined it in 1996?
A: When I joined, the foundation had been laid for fast growth. We went from 500 customers to 1,500 overnight, it seemed. We ran into some growth slowdown while we waited – and waited – for the phone company to install fiber into the building.
During that time, rather than sign up new customers, we kept a waiting list that grew to over 400 prospects. We didn’t sign up new customers until new lines were turned up in order to maintain our current customer’s high-level quality of service.
While we did miss out on some customers, it turned out to be great PR as customers truly appreciated it and carried their @olywa.net e-mail address like a badge of honor.
Q: What was your market niche?
A: OlyWa’s focus was on home power-users and community organizations. By freely extending support to community groups from KAOS Radio to the Food Bank to AIDS and Cancer organizations, I think the general public could see that we were both technically high-performance and genuinely community-focused.
Q: What image do you think OlyWa built for itself by the time it was sold?
A: High performance in every facet – technology, customer service and community support. In particular, we had a reputation for deploying new Internet access solutions first and in a high-quality and reliable manner. Bear in mind that OlyWa wasn’t the first ISP in the area, but certainly we were the most innovative by leading the way with 56K, DSL, Cable, Burstable T1.
Q: How many customers did OlyWa have when it was sold?
A: Depending on how you count them – e-mail accounts, unique billing customer, number of dial-up/DSL lines, etc. – 3,000 is a good round number. Most were residential users, followed by organizations/agencies and businesses third.
Q: What were the conditions in the company and the economy that led you and the other partners to believe the time was right to sell in 2000?
A: It was really more of a condition of our internal growth curve. We hadn’t totally saturated our local market but knew there were other products and markets to pursue, and also that we had the knowledge and experience to expand OlyWa into other markets throughout the Northwest.
We drew up a plan and shopped options, from venture capitalists and private investors to being courted by communications companies who had designs on merging with, or outright purchasing OlyWa.
Q: Was it a smooth transition?
A: Immediately after the merger, not much changed as we worked with our new parent company to devise a plan that ensured that the customer experience was not diluted but rather enhanced.
A problem arose when the parent corporation didn’t immediately incorporate a clear plan or have a defined interest in fully serving home users. Our input and ideas were mostly ignored or unbudgeted.
The business customers were a bit surprised about the pressure to change to an integrated telecommunications package, including a long-term contract, especially since OlyWa had never really used a sales force and certainly not any kind of high-pressure sales that had become the norm.
There were also a number of deployment and billing issues, both internal and external, that certainly left a few disenchanted customers. These service discrepancies were frustrating for us, since we were used to finding ways to satisfy the end-user.
As for the supported community non-profit organizations, most of them were cut or sent invoices. That was perhaps the most painful for me personally, since it is something I took pride in.
Q: What have you done with your share of the proceeds from the OlyWa sale, which was two-thirds stock and one-third cash?
A: The two-thirds stock sits in my safety deposit box, mocking me, and the one-third cash was used to pay bills, a few home improvements and a bit a traveling with my lady friend.
Q: What kind of restrictions did you have to adhere to as part of the sale?
A: I and the other operating partners had to join the parent company as employees and work specifically on migrating customers to the parent company’s network, which turned out to be a tricky proposition.
Q: What caused you to leave your job at ATG last June?
A: It seemed there was internal and cultural confusion on how to handle the OlyWa “tribe,” and what credence to give our ideas, plans and whatnot – kind of a square peg-round hole situation.
Some of our Internet colleagues at corporate HQ were squeezed out. We began to feel we were unwitting pawns, rather than “bright, innovative Internet minds,” which is how they’d described us when we were negotiating the merger.
Long story short, we negotiated a “divorce” that included a non-compete and mutual non-disparagement agreement.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: The job market is quite lean these days, so I am following my entrepreneurial instincts and brewing up a few new business plans and ideas.
Ideally, I will do something in either public relations or marketing for business and artists. I have also considered completing a law degree, focusing on intellectual property laws, something I became more interested in during the merger.
Q: Is there any room left in Thurston, Pierce, Lewis or Mason counties?
A: Absolutely – in all those markets. I don’t see ISPs being particularly innovative in their service offerings. Additionally, the wait and complications for DSL service are frankly quite absurd.
Further, no ISP is providing Internet access in a wide variety of ways – DSL, Cable, Burstable T1, Frame relay – ensuring all customers can get broadband access. I particularly think that residential customers are underserved, as most ISPs in the marketplace are only after business clients, leaving home users at the mercy of either inconsistent national cable providers or local dial-up providers.
Q: How would you say the local business climate for ISPs has changed over the past three years?
A: The biggest change is the rise – and subsequent decline – of CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange providers). When these providers came in, there was a “shakedown” in which some smaller providers disappeared through assimilation or lack of business. Yet the bigger corporations from out-of-state entering the market haven’t increased the range and quality of service for the end user.
I think there is a desire from the customers for a return to both personalized, local customer service and more streamlined process to high-performance Internet.
Q: What’ve you learned from all this?
A: Before the merger, I felt we were a big fish in a small pond and wouldn’t be as successful in a bigger market. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned is that our talents and experience were advanced enough to play in the big leagues.
I also learned lawyers make good money no matter how the deal goes down.