Incubator program throws lifeline to struggling Internet companies

Whether migrating from a brick to a click company or starting a dot-com business from scratch, devising an online strategy is a challenge no IT professional wants to face alone.

Internet companies face a range of unique demands, from the development of strategic alliances to the restructuring of sales forces, yet decisions must be made in Internet time and often under the constraints of rapid growth.

So where do you turn for help?

Seek Communications, the company behind Australian search engine seek.com.au, has taken advantage of a new incubator program developed by management consultancy Booz.Allen & Hamilton, in conjunction with investment bank Rothschild and national law firm Blake Dawson Waldron.

The program - dubbed E-business Accelerator - provides services including consulting, on-site manpower, and financial assistance.

Paul Bassat, CEO of Seek Communications, said building an Internet business had for the most part involved issues common to all companies looking to expand.

However, two unique issues Seek faced were a monthly growth rate of 20 per cent and a need to structure its sales force to best leverage the opportunities the Internet presents.

"Growing at 20 per cent a month meant we needed a flexible company structure," Bassat said.

"And because the Internet is a new medium we needed our sales force to be not just selling Seek, but ensuring customers understand how to leverage the medium."

As part of the E-business Accelerator program, Booz.Allen & Hamilton undertook a study of Seek's sales force to determine how they sold and who was most skilled at each stage of the sales process, then made recommendations on how the sales model could be realigned to be more effective, Bassat said.

Booz.Allen & Hamilton has also provided Seek with an inhouse management consultant for up to nine months to help the company make the efficient business decisions necessary for a rapidly growing organisation, he added.

Bassat told Computerworld the E-business Accelerator program gives the IT industry greater access to management consultancy expertise.

"If you are a big company like a Coles Myer, you're probably used to dealing with organisations such as Booz.Allen & Hamilton and it's a natural extension to get them involved in your e-commerce strategies.

"But for smaller organisations, there hasn't been such an opportunity to work with them [until this program]," he said.

Hans Wijgh, CEO and chairman of R&R Direct, a start-up company focused on online relationship and loyalty marketing concepts, agreed E-business Accelerator makes e-commerce manpower resources available to a greater range of organisations.

"In the Internet world, there is a greater need to be a ‘fast company' [so organisations] can't take forever to develop an idea," he said. "Often companies will look outside to the get the skills they lack [but] while the skill set is here, it comes at a premium.

"So the biggest issue facing an e-commerce initiative is lack of affordable expertise."

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