Executive Q&A: Connecting people is Bryan Chan's business
Jan 12, 2013 (The Wisconsin State Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Bryan Chan grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where, he says, "you can start a business in your garage and it can become Apple."
But Chan, who came to Madison in 1986 to attend UW-Madison, stayed and started his own Internet company here, SupraNet Communications. SupraNet, an Internet service provider and data storage center, recently purchased Mad City Broadband, a move that Chan says will open high-speed communications to area businesses of all sizes.
A would-be novelist with an English degree, Chan, 46, was fascinated by computers early on. And he saw his parents take on the business world. Natives of Hong Kong who met in Boston, Chan's father, an electrical engineer, started a robotics company and his mother, a former academic assistant to famed Harvard professor Timothy Leary, sold real estate.Chan also is a key player in the growing effort to spread the entrepreneurship bug throughout the area, and is one of the co-founders of Madison's Forward Technology Festival.
"The power of the Internet is not the routers and servers but connecting people to each other. That's what's great about it," Chan says.
Q: What prompted you to start SupraNet
A: I wanted a job after college that paid me to surf the Web and nothing like that existed at the time. The Web was just coming out. I loved showing it to people and seeing the light bulbs go off in their heads.
Q: SupraNet, started in 1994, is now nearly 20 years old, has about 20 employees, and is one of the few local Internet service providers still in business. How did you accomplish that
A: By sticking to our core values. I really wanted to work for a place that was well respected. To be well respected, you have to be honest and tell the truth, even if it makes you look bad. We tell our customers about outages, mistakes that we've made, as well as things we've done to correct the situation.
We compete on good service. We try to answer all calls by the third ring. Our call center, at our offices at 8000 Excelsior Drive, has about 10 employees, all local people, local jobs, local support for clients.
What's really kept us in the market is the loyalty of our customers. Sixty percent of them have been with us for five years or longer, some, going on 10 or 15 years. For a handful, we are their first and only Internet service provider, which is amazing.
Q: Why did you want to buy Mad City Broadband It is a company initially created to serve central Madison and the Dane County Regional Airport with wireless Internet service.
A: With this acquisition, it's like we're a startup again, but with a lot more resources.
With Mad City, we've added about 150 new clients. It also gives us our own fiber and wireless network. We had some of our own before, but this significantly expands it. It also will give us access to MUFN, the Metropolitan Unified Fiber Network, once the Madison City Council approves.
(MUFN is a collaborative fiber-optic network that serves more than a dozen education, government, health care and nonprofit organizations as well as Mad City Broadband. Funded by a $5.1 million U.S. Department of Commerce grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, MUFN provides high-speed data connections for its members.)
We can build a fiber-optic connection to our clients from the MUFN network, giving them much faster Internet speeds than what we were offering. Prior to this acquisition, it was difficult for smaller and medium-sized companies to get on fiber; those rates were controlled by the telephone and cable companies. We can do it better, faster and cheaper.
Q: SupraNet also made another recent investment. In addition to having your own data center, the company bought space at two large data centers in Chicago. What are the benefits of that
A: For one thing, it lets us locate a client's data outside the state, which provides redundancy in case of an outage. Also, one of the data centers, at 350 E. Cermak, is the biggest in the world. Almost all Internet traffic in the Midwest region more than likely passes through there.
With the addition of those data centers and the MUFN network, as well as additional fiber connections we have built, it opens all sorts of possibilities.
A couple of years ago, we were all excited about the potential of becoming a Google Fiber city, with ultra-high-speed Internet connections. That didn't happen. But now, we're hoping to fill some of the promises of Google Fiber for businesses, providing much higher Internet speeds than previously offered in the market. That means virtually no delays or bottlenecks in data transmission. It is faster, more reliable and more cost effective.
A recent article in Mashable, an Internet tech blog, said Kansas City, which was chosen for Google Fiber, is now attracting startups from around the region. I hope we can help drive the startup scene here, as well.
Q: Does it also give you an opportunity to serve clients between Madison and Chicago
A: We do have some already; I would like to expand in that direction.
Q: SupraNet, along with Yahara Software, is one of the organizers of the monthly networking event, the High Tech Happy Hour, now in its 12th year, and you are one of the founders of the Forward Technology Festival, which started in 2010. What has made you get involved in those activities
A: We are so committed to Madison and helping to build that entrepreneurial eco-system. Certainly, I benefitted from a lot of help from other entrepreneurs and mentors. I'm trying to pay that forward.
We didn't start the High Tech Happy Hour but we took it over.
The Forward Technology Festival keeps growing. It was 10 days long with 14 events last year, and more than 2,000 people attended the festival.
The idea was to really promote Madison as a center for the entrepreneurship universe, at least for that week. People came from as far as Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Minneapolis.
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