The New Net Perspective
By BENITA D. NEWTON
Forget the TV show - the real survivors of today may be in the local technology sector.
THE TUSCALOOSA NEWS
In the span of a few short years, a sudden wave of electronic technology has bolstered,
and in some ways battered, today's model of business and entrepreneurship in America.
Primarily behind the expansion of the Internet, some businesses have captured the
promise of growth of e-commerce only to be caught in the undertow of non-profitable companies
headed toward major wipeout.
But while the recovery from overvalued technology business continues nationwide, Tuscaloosa's
budding technology sector has taken careful measures to make a lasting Web presence, and one
that could be the model for the new perspective of Internet and business.
New life in Fast Health
When good timing and intense product planning came together for Kevin Foote, CEO of FastHealth,
it meant successfully joining his health information Web portal with strong financial
backing of 13 investors, including sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham,
a director of HealthSouth, for under $1 million.
Foote's idea was to fuse health information on the Web with interactive health care, which gives
a company a role in connecting physicians and patients through the Internet.
The initial investment backing came midway through 2000, and just in time. Technology companies
started taking a hit nationally while Foote continued developing the efficient final product.
"When we started the site as an information protal, it was visited by 5,000 hits a day, and 30,000
page views a month. As an information protal, we help the patient by finding health information
and in less time, making it convenient and not requiring them to go to multiple sources."
Foote and marketing official Alex Monroe wanted FastHealth to deliver upon a goal "to be the ally of
the hospital that cannot offer a million-dollar IT budget," Foote added. "They want to be
involved in interactive health care, but they're not able to use technology people."
By the time they were willing to move ahead into the second phase of growth, the tech crash
had caused a damper on their idea preventing any further funding unless they could prove
that Fast Health could generate revenue now, not months down the road.
"You can't tell people you've got a good product, you have to prove people will pay for it,"
"What we had to do is quickly prove our product can generate revenue. We tried to raise
money. So we changed our strategy from marketing to actual revenue generation in March
to prove we have a viable product."
Attaining that goal meant licensing hospitals in the state or elsewhere to use the Web portal
with their associated name. When a hospital didn't show interest in the product, Foote
and Monroe then went to media outlets and stations that wanted the idea.
A sales staff was quickly produced, from the existing staff of 20 employees. By using
traditional sales footwork over the first months of 2001, the licensing picked up with 10
television stations licensing with Fast Health. By keeping costs low in the company's
initial stages, the emphasis was placed on building a profitable product and making the turn
into steeper revenue. By keeping spending in check, selling the idea of interactive
health care on the Internet grew less difficult.
"We just got five hospitals in the state and five more are in the works," said Foote of licenses
in addition to the TV stations. "We feel confident we're going to be able to license this
to all the hospitals in the state."
Since keeping track of page views last fall, Fast Health has grown from 30,000 a month in
November to 200,400 in April. Last month included a jump of 50,000 views.
"Even though we are using traditional techniques in sales, it's not a traditional product,"
Monroe said. "We're talking about a product that accesses tens of thousands of units of
information. From day one we've been very cost effective and cautious of spending."
Monroe said the value of what the Internet could be is starting to come around again. By
using sensible financial judgement and adapting a strong product to fit changing strategies,
companies can prove their viability through whatever the economy dictates.
"That's a key to preservation on the Internet, to have an adapting plan that accommodates
change. Having a plant set in stone may help sell widgets, but if you're set in stone
with today's Internet you'll be off the chart."