By Mark Sutton
Joe Hartnett, CEO of US Robotics, talks to CRN ME about changes to the business, rolling out networking for the SOHO market and leveraging the US Robotics brand.
Inside Information: Joe Hartnett|~||~||~|CRN: US Robotics has had an eventful few years, between changing manufacturing facilities twice in two years, the changes in investors and the departure of your predecessor-has the company managed to handle these changes?
JOE HARTNETT: In September 2000 we had no supply chain, no sales force, no IT infrastructure, approximately 100 employees, no international operations, and really no location-when you think about some of the challenges we had to face, we are pretty pleased. We were a company that was struggling, but we returned quickly to profitability, we have a good business model, we have a financial model that makes sense. We closed down 2001 with the attempt to get the infrastructure right, a business model that makes sense for us and that is relevant to this company, so that is where we are today.
The next step is to expand our products into three groups. Obviously we are going to have the analogue modem business, but we will also have products in the broadband business as well as the networking business. US Robotics has always been the company that connects the individual to the Internet, and we want to continue down that path, but we recognise that we need to expand into the broadband market. In addition to that, we want to help distribute that Internet connection in the home, small office and SMBs, through networking, both wired and wireless, and that in a nutshell is where we are taking this company forward.
CRN: Will the new products focus just on your traditional markets, or are you going to go after the enterprise?
HARTNETT: US Robotics is focused on the home, small office, and small-to-medium sized businesses. We do have our corporate clients, but our corporate clients are not the multinational mega-companies, they are smaller, medium-sized businesses. This is a market place we are comfortable in, it is one we have been successful in. The brand was built on its relationship with individuals in the home, and we want to continue to leverage that, and doing anything other than that at this point in time, we don't think is appropriate.
CRN: How do you plan to change the perception of US Robotics being just a modem manufacturer?
HARTNETT: My short response to that would be that we believe if we consistently deliver high quality solutions to our target market, and promote the success and accomplishments that we have, we think that that is a natural progression that will take place. It is going to be difficult, we are not naive about that, but we are very serious about our desire to provide quality solutions to the home and small offices. We think that when we make these experiences easy for those individuals and those businesses, we believe that that is what they remember US Robotics for.CRN: Are the home networking and wireless networking markets up for grabs at the moment?
HARTNETT: Certainly there is at least one player that has gone aggressively here in the US to carve out market share. Like any business model, we believe that the way to differentiate ourselves, in terms of what we offer, and what we plan to offer in terms of support, service, ease of use, and leveraging the brand, will allow us to compete. I don't think anybody can go in and just challenge the existing competitors and expect to be successful without a clear cut, well defined strategy.
CRN: Will it not require a large investment to offer adequate support for home users?
HARTNETT: That is the issue of ease of use. We believe if we can continue to develop install software so that the owner of the business, who wants to network their business, if we make it particularly easy for them, not only with the software and the installation, but also in the support, then that it is a huge differentiator. The key will be to follow the brand promise, that you take it home, or to your business, and it is going to work. If you do have any problems give us a call, and we can get you through it quickly. That is going to be key to the success of the market place as it develops in the home.
CRN: Do you have any plans for consumer electronics?
HARTNETT: We are certainly following that [market], but we believe that we need to stick to analogue networking and broadband connections at this point in time. We don't feel we are in a position where it is appropriate to branch out in areas that require a great deal of management attention, beyond our core business. That said, we are looking at other avenues to leverage the brand, but at this point in time we are focusing on delivering high quality solutions that will help our customers connect to the Internet.||**||