ONLINE Interview Conducted Thu Jan 27 08:33:16 2000

On Thu, 27 Jan 2000, Caroline Wright, WRIGHT FOR YOU wrote:

> 1. Pls. provide a brief history of FlexNet.  What is your background?  When
> did you start Flex, and why?

Well, lesse. What if I said I got my first taste of Internet at U.H.
Manoa, used my in-law's account (she was faculty) to sneak around, later
used and abused her account to hook up a Linux system with one modem, used
another modem for dial-in access by my "users", ran a bbs for like eight
years prior, then got kicked out by U.H., got my in-law in trouble, then I
got fed up and got my own 56Kbps line direct to the mainland for Internet,
then offered true internet access to my 300 bbs users, of whom 200 or so
decided to pay me twenty-five buckeroos a month?

Yup, dats me.

We offered Internet access on a trial basis on July 12th, 1994 and July
19th we started charging for real. Here is the no bull shit order of
Hawaii ISPs beginnings:  Flex, then month later Hawaii Online, then month
after that Pixi... then end of 1994, Lavanet. Later on Maui Net early 1995
and a whole rash of other ISPs we helped set up (including Maui Net) ---
Interlink/Interpac, Kauai Internet, Dataplus, Pacific Onramp and Kestroke.
Then Hula Net opened but Kristin Paulo didn't wanna join our consortium
(Kristin was FlexNet's first employee by the way.)

> 2. What were your sales in 1999?  How many customers did you have at the
> beginning of the year, and how many at the end?  (S'okay if you won't or can
> 't answer these questions; I am just trying to give readers an idea of your
> company's size and growth.  You are welcome to provide any stats that might
> help me do this.)

Well, beginning of 1999 around 1300 users I'd say, we cracked 2000 before
the end of the year, now we are around 2500 or so. Plus we have around
1000 to 1300 resale accounts on top of that.

> 3. Describe your ideal customer.   Why does Flex only want customers who are
> experienced Internet & computer users?

We look for computer smart, internet savvy users.

Our business model is based on no tech support. I leave that to places
like Lava Net (who does a great job at it, from what I hear.) We qualify
our users/customers. We find customers to fit our business, not change our
business to fit the customer. Now, before you blow up and call me a snob,
consider --- If you walked in to McDonalds and asked for lobster and steak
to go, and then said why not add that to the menu? 'Course not. McDonalds
is after a certain kind of customer/mood. Just like FlexNet. 'cept maybe
McDonalds does it with a smile. Lots of prospects get put off by our/my
"attitude", but heck, FlexNet is Del Wong. I come across just as many
users who like, yes like and love my attitude as those that don't.

> 4. You only accept payments via credit card now, and as I recall you moved
> over to this sensible system a couple years ago.  Is this unique among
> Hawaii ISPs?  Did it cost you many accounts?  How has this made your
> business more efficient?  Who developed those excellent and detailed
> accounting screens, and how long did it take?

Yea, only Credit card processing. Officially. Now most ISPs will take any
body (not screen like we do), and take checks and what not. FlexNet
automates the entire process ---signup, initial payment, dunning notices
and inactivation upon non-payments. Everything is automated. And we pass
the savings on to the customer.

Any ISP must have a handle on what I call the dreaded ABCs... Accounting,
Billing and Collections. Fail or fall down in any one, and you can kiss
that ISP goodbye.

Jeff Tupa and I both did the web programming.
Everything is in real time, so that means once you sign up and put in your
credit card, your FlexNet account is active within 2 to 3 minutes tops.
Twenty fours hours a day, everyday. The online account status screen shows
your complete history with us, and also provides a printable invoice. Real
slick, if I do say so myself.

> 5. How fast are your customers connecting to the Internet?  What is your
> modem-to-user ratio?  How many are ADSL accounts?

If you got the smarts to do the ethernet configs yourself, you will be
very very happy with our ADSL. Overjoyed even. We installed a special DS3
Frame Relay link just for our ADSL customers. DS3 is equiv to 28 T1 Frame
Relay circuits, and a single T1 (or maybe two T1s) is what most ISPs
use for ADSL incoming customers.

Now think. How can an ISP legitimately sell a T1 Platinum ADSL access over
this single T1, and also dump other ADSL customers on this very same T1?
They'd be selling snake oil, dats what.

We do it right and so far are the only Hawaii ISP to do so.

Our modem pool kinda sucks right now, to be honest, but we will have brand
new stuff online before this article hits the stands, so watch out! 

FlexNet rocks.

> 6. You've seen some pretty big changes this month.  You have a new Cisco
> 3661 router now. has it met your expectations?

Our initial 3661 had BIG PROBLEMS. Kept crashing. And crashing. After two
weeks of "hmmmms" from Cisco tech support, they finally sent us a brand
new unit. Worked flawlessly. It is running eight T1 serial ports, and a
fast 45Mbps hssi port. It handles our four different Internet Feeds and
all our frame and adsl customers. Really a great piece of hardware. At
only 35 percent processor usages. Recommended.

> 7. What factors most influenced or affected your business in the last year?

Luck, Pure Dog Luck. Right place right time. Goddess Blessings. Not
parking my Lexus under a tree. Voices in the Night Sky. Take your pick.

> 8. How has Hawaii's soft economy affected Flex?  How is the
> telecommunications market there these days?

We are a 'Net business, so Hawaii bothers us not, either way. Frankly we
don't make money doing modems or adsl, which is local income. We make our
money on the Net.

> 9. It seems like the newsgroups are fairly Flex-hostile.  Somebody on one
> said recently that you'd oversold your capacity.  How do you respond?

I don't bother anymore reading the dang thing. As I said before our
present modem situation is crappy. But again, by the time this article
comes out, we will again rock in that department. No worry.

> 10. What percent of Hawaii's market share have you captured? (What is the
> estimated number of Hawaii residents who are now online, any idea?) Does
> FlexNet really have more  bandwidth than the other Hawaii ISPs?

Market share? Who's blowing on that balloon? I don't think we make a blip
on anyone's screen. We don't really need to, to survive. Actually I am
doing the modeming and low pricing thing just for fun. I've actually been
told to my face by other ISPs that I am ruining the market, that I charge
way too little. Other people go drinking or golfing. I like playing with
modems/adsl and low pricing. Lots of fun. So I'm a little wacked...

As for bandwidth, we hold our own. We have links to UUNET and AT&T
directly. Plus two other links as backup. Total is around 10.5 Mbps.
Acutally we hardly go over 30 percent utilization on our feeds. And most
of that is taken up by stupid news feeds.

> 11. Are you a millionaire yet?  If not, how come?  (Of course this is a
> serious question!)

If people knew what we pull in from all our activities, they'd slap my
head in total disgust! Several times. Let's just say I am a Republican...

> 12. Who is the staff of FlexNet?  Are you a one-man band?  Is Missus Wong
> still helping you out? Is Flex your only business, or do you have other
> irons in the fire?  What are they?

 Everything is secret. Don't Tell, Don't Ask.

> 13. How have customers responded to your decision to dump the GTE numbers in
> your modem access pool in favor of GST numbers exclusively?

Well, our entire present modem pool is crap. But it won't be that way by
the time you read this article. Count on it.

> 14. What's next for FlexNet?

Ask me that next time.