3 min read

An entrepreneur manages to find a niche

Providing managed services to customers is not a new idea, but this company believes it has found a way to differentiate itself from competitors

Robert Gervais saw oppportunity knocking at the most inopportune time

The year was 1999 and the tech bubble was at its peak. Dot-coms were coming out of the ground and it made sense to him there would be demand for service providers offering hosting and remote management capabilties.

Several months later the bubble started to burst, but that didn’t stop the self-described “serial entrepreneur” from keeping the doors open at his new company, Pre2Post. Never mind that the Montreal firm was his first IT venture – previous companies had sold ecological products to restaurants and been involved in film and TV production.

But Gervais, who says he began his business career as a 16-year-old when he formed a company to sell bulk household goods door-to-door, is an optimist.

“We went in with the mindset that it was the best time to start a business,” he says, “because all the fly-by-nights would disappear but someone would have to service the companies.”

The key, he believes, is a custom suite of tools developed by his partner and cousin, Nicolas Rainville, called ZeroFail. It enables P2P to remotely monitor customers’ networks as well as give them detailed real-time performance information they can use to make business decisions.

This year he hopes to see revenues of about $2.5 million from 250 customers – including some national fast food chains, a retailer and a Quebec government ministry – and double that in the next 14 months.

This venture began with what sounds like a typical CEO’s complaint: “In my last two companies it was extremely difficult to manage IT because it always seemed to that there was five, six, seven suppliers, and none of them was ever responsible for the problem. Bell would say it’s the hosting company, the hosting company would say it’s the programmer . . . no one was responsible.”

Gervais saw the need for a company to take responsibility for IT for firms with up to 1,000 seats “from start to finish,” hence the name Pre2Post.

For some time he’d thought of teaming with Rainville, who had a tech support company called Evolo, and the opportunity came in 1999 when Gervais sold his production company.

Modest start

At first they started modestly, offering mainly support and connectivity services, plus basic Web and e-mail hosting.

To bring in more cash a competitor was purchased, allowing Rainville the time to create ZeroFail, which automates the gathering of customer network data as well as monitors the system.

While some of those functions were being peformed by P2P staff, it also meant Gervais – the company’s sole salesman – had to limit the number of customers the company could handle.

Fourteen months ago the company began offering ZeroFail to customers. It monitors networks so P2P can anticipate bottlenecks and therefore offer fixed-price monthly service level contracts. It also compiles a daily inventory of everything attached to a customer’s network for security.

Through a Web interface, customers can see a wide range of performance data, from the number of outstanding support tickets to number of intrusion attempts to who is receiving or sending the most e-mail.

Such reporting helps clients make IT capacity planning decisions, Gervais said, details which he believes gives it an edge over competitors providing managed services.

He acknowledges there are a number of tools on the market that do similar things, but said P2P has more experience in the field.

But he says the result is being able to handle tough assignments such as hosting 32 Web sites for the recent World Outgames in Montreal without generating one support call.

Business is picking up enough that Gervais is no longer the only salesperson. Six months ago he hired a director of sales, and aims to hire four sales staff in the next 12 months.

Pre2Post has even opened a New York office, although not by plan. A staff member who’d lived there for a number of years wanted to go back, and insisted he could sell its services there.

VARs should note Gervais’ unique method of marketing: he takes people to a Greek restaurant he co-owns.

He explained that “it’s a great way of doing high-level networking.”