RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — The sound of confidence and excitement filled Richard Holcomb’s voice as he talked about StrikeIron, his latest entrepreneurial venture.

“It’s the culmination of 18 months of work,” Holcomb said proudly of StrikeIron’s bold move into the web services market.

The startup launched the StrikeIron Web Services Business Network (WSBizNet) this week, fulfilling the vision of Holcomb and his co-founders as delivering web services software as a service rather than a shrink-wrap or per-license product sale. WSBizNet offers users both free and premium choices in working with, capitalizing on and publishing web services, which is the new software development craze.

“The initial cut in our thinking was to do something different — to focus on end users,” Holcombexplained. “The original idea we came up with is that web services as a technology would be a large space with new markets, a good place to build companies, then we started refining our vision.”

Holcomb was familiar with an end-user approach, having adopted a similar tactic in building Q+E Software, the first successful venture he helped build and sell. (Holcomb also helped launch Haht software and now is a venture capitalist as well as StrikeIron’s CEO).

“That is what made us successful at Q+E,” he recalled. “We focused on the typical end-user, not the C++ (programmer) user. Web services seemed to have the same opportunity and scale and need.”

StrikeIron, which Holcomb and co-founders Bob Brauer and Robert Dale named based on the idea of “striking while the iron is hot”, made its debut with a web browser-like application for web services use.
“We knew we generated a lot of interest, but we knew we weren’t done,” he said. “We knew more would be required to make web services easy to find, easy to use, and easy to understand.”

Not that the task to do all that was easy, mind you.

“Soup to nuts” services

The StrikeIron team accepted a lot of feedback and suggestions from users as the concept for the online network evolved.

“This is a pretty complete soup-to-nuts system,” he said. “We think this will allow most people to use web services, to take advantage of them.”

StrikeIron offers some services for free, but the premium services is where the money is to be made. The company already is generating revenue, Holcomb said.

He cited as an example the federal “do not call” list created to cut down on nuisance sales calls at private homes. The list is running in the millions and is constantly changing.

Marketing companies running the risk of breaking the law but unable to deal with the huge list can use a web service from StrikeIron to “merge and purge”.

Another example he cited was a company that maintains a database of 150 million phone numbers and guarantees that it is accurate every night. The cost to get the service, however, is very expensive.

StrikeIron worked with the firm to make shorter updates available at less costs for smaller companies. StrikeIron makes money from both ends of the sale.

Venture hunt nears a close

“Subscriptions are really growing,” Holcomb added happily as word spreads about what StrikeIron is doing. Having raised seed money from friends and family and The Aurora Funds, Holcomb said StrikeIron is now preparing to close on a major round of funding.

“It will close in the next two to three weeks,” he said. The money will go for sales and marketing to drive more business to the network.

“We feel great,” Holcomb added. “We picked a big space, we worked around it for a while, we found an unmet need, and we think we found the sweet spot. The analyst feedback has been good, and people are signing up.”

But Holcomb cautioned that the job of making StrikeIron successful is far from complete.

“We have to prove this business model,” he said. “Software as a service is a new model. It’s a gamble, but it’s a good one.
“Now, we have to prove it.”