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Saving the day, in bits and bytes.

As IT managers know, data backup can be a pain, eating up both time and tape. Mark Martin knew there had to be an easier way to save data than buying a stack of tapes and recycling them through the week. As the bandwidth pipe got larger, Martin started Dallas-based NetMass to bring data backup to the Web. He talks about search engines, remote storage, and waking up his friends.

How did the idea for NetMass get sparked?

Back in the mid-1990s, some friends and I were trying to figure out a way to get around having to back up our data every night, which involved using a bunch of floppies. I called my future partner Steve at 1:00 a.m. and asked if we could do backups over the Internet. In a groggy state, he said it wasn’t feasible because of bandwidth concerns. So, we dropped it, but a few years later we were searching for options to start a company and we realized that maybe the time had come for the idea.

What kinds of challenges did you find in starting the company?

First we had to figure out how to sell it to the marketplace. You can’t afford to just knock on every door and ask for money, so first we had to find a way to present it on the Internet and build a customer base. Some of the first hurdles were product development, and having a Web site as a storefront. We had to figure out how to make a customer aware of what we’re doing. We tried every kind of Internet marketing there was, like banner ads and e-mail, and didn’t get a foothold with customers until we spent a lot of money on search engines, and then it began to come together.

How did you get people to your site via search engines?

First, we had to find all the keywords that people were using. Backup is an obvious one, but people put in other terms as well, and we paid to have our company put at the top of the results. Other terms were things like remote storage or data recovery. We get several hundred thousand hits on our Web site every month now. Whenever we need to expose ourselves to a broader market, the search engines are a key tactic for us.

Why should companies think about using a service like yours, rather than doing their own backups?

Small businesses, like mom and pop shops with five to ten people working for them, usually have some assistant that’s been backing up to tape for years. And they’re getting tired of it. We’re finding that our customers know they have to have a full week of backup, but it’s cumbersome and time-consuming, and they’re sick of rotating tapes. Having an online backup system is much faster and more efficient. They can choose what needs to be backed up, and manage it much better than having a stack of tapes that’s constantly in use.

Do you think that people understand the necessity of doing backups?

I’d compare it to dental floss. You know you’re supposed to do it, but you skip it and when you get a cavity, you pay the price. With our data recovery service, we’ve had to save the day many times. That’s actually the moment I like best, when we’re heroes. When we started this business, our philosophy was that we want to provide services that enhance business, and when we see happy customers, it makes it all worth it. It makes the day go a lot easier knowing that we do something that people appreciate.

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