The winners at the New Jersey Venture Fair held in November
will be recognized at the "Best of the Best Awards" on
Wednesday, January 7, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Forrestal. Cost: $35. Call
Dan Conley at 732-873-1955 for more information. The sponsors are the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network, the New Jersey Technology Council, and the New Jersey Entrepreneurs Forum.
At the ceremony, these presidents and CEOs will be representing their companies: Fred Cope of Hy-Gene, the Trenton-based skin graft company (U.S. 1, November 19), which won most innovative product; David Greenblatt of Nextwave Communications, the Fort Lee-based conference software developer, which won best exhibitor; Christer and Deborah Mattsson, of Comtest in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, which won best early software; Phil Davis of Accu-Search of New Jersey, Keyport, which won best expansion software; Sean Marzola of Datacom International in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, which won most likely to go public; Liz Griggs of Benchmark Oncology, in Florham Park, which won outstanding early management; David Davis of Interactive Medicine in Valley Forge, which won most likely to succeed.
There are at least two ways for a small business to gain an edge. One is to fill a niche with a new and innovative product. The other is to heap on the customer service with a trowel. If you can pull off both at the same time, you may find your business riding the crest of a self-made boom.
Case in point is Accu-Search of New Jersey Inc., which does electronic title searches and has won contracts all across New Jersey, including the State of New Jersey. "We digitize the information to make it available faster," says Phil Davis, the founder and president. "We’re planning on putting it on the Internet. We’re building a statewide database for property search information."
And, he adds, if you bought a home in New Jersey in the past five years, there’s a better than 50 percent chance that Accu-Search did the title search. The title search industry is a $90 million market, Davis adds.
Accu-Search won best expansion software at the New Jersey Venture Fair (see above article) and is now at the point at having to turn down prospective investors. "The company has doubled in size for three years straight," says Davis. "We’re in this continuous growth phase. We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of attention lately. We’re spending more time saying no to people. We’ve got these wacky venture capital people calling, but we’re still looking at private
investors and banks."
Davis, 35, grew up the son of two entrepreneurs. His father. David Davis (no relation to the telemedicine entrepreneur of the same name in the article below), is a systems analyst who operates his own computer consulting firm, Delphi Consulting in Fort Lee. His step-father, Stuart Klein, is a polymer chemist who started three different companies. His current company, AccuTech Polymers, operates out of Boca Raton. "He stole my name, he liked it so much," Davis concedes.
Davis got his undergraduate degree from Amherst College (Class of 1985), and followed that with stints at two New Jersey search firms, Entre Computers, and TechniScan. He founded Accu-Search in 1991 with two employees, and churned out a $400,000 year. After nearly seven years, the firm has grown to 40 employees and has offices in Keyport, Fort Lee, and Atlantic City. With 1997 revenues of roughly $3.5 million, Accu-Search is planning two expansions, the first stage involves private placements of $5 million; the second stage Davis hopes will bring in an additional $20 million. Accu-Search is currently considering doing an initial public offering.
The firm is planning on opening two new offices: one in Camden County, the other in the Trenton Business and Technology Center, which could be open by next June, says Davis. "We are about to step on the toes of somebody in Trenton called Charles Jones, which has a monopoly on the judgment search market," he adds. "We’re going to be doing judgment searches as well." But the main reason for Accu-Search’s success, he maintains, is customer service. "Investors doing due diligence on our transactions said they had never seen a higher level of customer satisfaction than the people who use AccuSearch on a daily basis," Davis explains. "Right now we’re visiting all of our customers for Christmas. It takes over a month."
But Davis admits that in the title search business, the key to customer service is not Christmas visits, but accuracy. "It’s got to be right," he says. "People are buying homes based on the information that we provide to them. We’re helping them be sure that there are not going to be any problems. Doing that correctly 15,000 times a month — that’s what it’s all about."
The accuracy factor presents another hurdle for Accu-Search: "We’re having such a hard time identifying good people for this work," says Davis.
A title searcher, he explains, needs a legal real estate background, and loads of detail orientation plus the ability to work independently. "It’s not the kind of job where you can have bad days," says Davis. "You screw something up and some family’s stuck with a $10,000 bill."
And glamorous work it isn’t. "We’ve never been in the paper before, we’re too busy working," says Davis. "We’re in the trenches every single day."
And there’s not too much room for advancement either. "Another reason we’re successful is that we don’t have a lot of managers," Davis explains. "We don’t take our best people and make them managers. We give them enhanced responsibilities but they stay out there. Our best searchers are out there doing searches."
For some businesses, getting into the right market at the right time is a prescription for success. For others, the right time means early. NextWave Communications, based in Fort Lee, hopes that its multimedia software, ConferenCenter, will be representative of a nascent industry that some insiders see as an inevitability: Internet video conferencing. "Our software plug-ins give the ability to view a presentation over the Internet, so you don’t have to buy video conferencing equipment," says Mark King, vice president of sales and marketing. "We’re providing business clients a private channel to broadcast over the Internet, utilizing ConferenCenter as the delivery mechanism."
NextWave won best exhibitor at the New Jersey Venture Fair. "We’re targeting the financial services marketplace, pharmaceutical, and public seminar markets," says King. ConferenCenter has two other applications thus far, distance learning and IPO road shows. "It would allow companies that want to go public to make offerings over the Internet as well," says King.
"We’re pretty much a virtualization company," he adds. "We deliver a physical event to the Internet as a virtual event and do that simultaneously so it appears as a webcast. This is probably the starting point." NextWave is putting all of its clams in this basket because it sees itself as a possible pilot of this new industry as it takes off. "With a year and a half in this Internet space we have probably the most experience as an audio and video streaming systems integrator," says King.
NextWave should feel a little embarrassed in claiming to be an industry leader after only a year and half in business, but, as King reminds, it’s experience is measured in Internet time, not real time. "Audio and video streaming has been around two years. Live streaming has only been around less than a year. We’ve been working on this technology a year and half, therefore we’ve been working on this industry for a lifetime. Relative terms."
For a more realistic temporal measurement, King recommends multiplying an Internet product’s time-to-market by 10. "Things are happening 10 times as fast," he says. "So what you see today is pretty much obsolete or outdated because new technology is coming that rapidly."
The NJEN is recognizing another company that has a product positioned for the future: Interactive Medicine, a maker of telemedicine technologies based in Valley Forge. Named most likely to succeed at the Venture Fair, the company markets a system that costs $12,500 and up and enables patients, doctors, and other providers on healthcare chain to share patient information and provide care from a distance, says David Davis, president of the three-year-old company.
Says Davis. "It’s a new marketplace in healthcare but it’s one that a lot of people see as the future of how healthcare will be delivered more efficiently."
Currently, Interactive Medicine is pursuing two rather diverse customer
bases where the costs of transporting patients are very high: prisons and oil rigs. "People welcome it because there’s a very straightforward cost in those types of situations. It puts the medical care where it needs to be very efficiently."
Timing is also a factor in this company’s success, although, unlike NextWave’s industry, which is somewhat unrealized, the medical industry is ready to embrace this kind of technology. "The barriers such as complete reimbursement for telemedicine and licensing issues are all resolved," says Davis. "Reimbursement and licensing issues are pivotal for this."