Flashcom: One Year Later

by Don Hamilton

One year ago I wrote an article about a new company called Flashcom that had big plans. It was the standard two-guys-in-a-garage story. Brad Sachs called us at 8:00 one night and asked if he could buy a quarter-page ad in WWWiz to announce Flashcom's presence. At that time they had zero customers and two employees, Brad Sachs and Scott Campbell, and some big ideas. After a little question-and-answer I found out they were planning to provide DSL connections and hosting. At that time, DSL was mostly talk. Everyone was planning something but almost no one was really doing anything.

The excitement these two shared came blasting through in the interview I did with them a month later. They were talking about how T-1 lines were being sold for huge amounts of money, and they were really HDSL, and they were going to be able to offer them much cheaper, and the phone companies would have to change their entire model. They were talking so fast and with so much enthusiasm on both sides of me that it was hard to keep up. The one thing I could keep up with was that these guys believed in what they were doing, and planned to dive in head first.

I left the interview checking out the small piece of a dilapidated building they occupied in a run-down neighborhood with bars on all the windows. This is not a new idea in this business. Hotmail, Amazon, Webtv and Autobytel, to name just a few familiar names, also had very humble beginnings.

Brad was Flashcom's president, and Scott was marketing director, having just come from a marketing position with one of the telcos. Flashcom support also included Andra, Brad's wife, who has been instrumental in the success of the team. She likes to call herself the CAK—for Chief A**-Kicker.

Their timing was perfect; the market was ready for DSL, and when Brad announced to the world that they were looking for resellers of high-speed bandwidth, almost every provider in California called them. The need for speed was there and waiting for someone to put it together in an easy package at a reasonable price.

Today Flashcom is a national machine with more than 20,000 customers online now, and they're signing up more than 400 per week. They just moved into a 25,000-square-foot facility in Huntington Beach (Brad is an avid surfer and can be found by the pier almost every morning), as well as a similar facility in the Boston area. Their ad budget is over $30 million per year. In their headquarters here in Southern California, they're hiring 12 new people per week, and even that’s not keeping up with their need. And they've already outgrown their new building.

WWWiz wrote a cover story about these guys because we could visualize them doing what they said they would. When we published the story, I had several providers and other knowledgeable people call me and explain that the Flashcom guys were out of touch and couldn't do what they said they would. Well, they've done it. The experts who said it couldn't be done weren't lost souls, but savvy, technically competent people who could see that the problems to overcome were huge. What Brad did was build something that he could see, even if everyone else couldn't. He focused and charged ahead, and the results are a testament to his determination and skill. What he has put together is a well-oiled, smoothly running marketing machine.

But the point of this story is not just to talk about Flashcom, the point of this story is to tell the world about the people who make things happen and who constantly try to gauge the growth of the Net. Growth is not measured in simply speed, number of subscribers, hits or millionaires created by the wired world. It is measured by a combination of all of these factors. Brad and Flashcom embody all of these. This is the story of another dreamer making history, a surfer who must have gotten out of the water one day and thought "What if I could connect half the country with high-speed bandwidth?" The difference between Brad and everyone else who ever had a similar thought is that Brad took action. He made it happen. He's not the only one providing DSL, but he was a prime mover in the rush to provide DSL, and has influenced others to sharpen the competition. With G-lite later this year the rate of installs will be climbing dramatically.

DSL is giving the Web the boost it needed to bring the new age into our homes and offices. Just a couple of years ago it cost thousands of dollars to connect to the Net with high-speed lines, and computers cost about the same as the installation process. Now installation and the computer are free. Today you have several choices. You can use cable, wireless, DSL or satellite.

What Now?

Flashcom has had several suitors attempt to buy them in the last couple of months, including some of the biggies like Earthlink. It's rumored that one of the companies called to make an offer and Brad told them that was not likely to happen, but he might be interested in buying them. Work is in progress on a "cybercafe" of sorts, which they plan to open within the next few months. Instead of just coffee and Internet, they'll have wine and DSL test drives. The competition for DSL is growing daily and has only begun with lots of companies offering very good solutions. There will be lots of winners here, but keep your eye on Flashcom. By the way, they will probably go public later this year or early next.

What will the next year look like? It seems like only 12 months in the future, but it's the next century—the next millennium. It's what lies across the bridge over whatever gulf Clinton is constantly warning us about. What garage start-up will we be talking about next year? It’s hard to imagine now, but if Flashcom's success is any indication, the next little guy may grow faster and bigger.

Flashcom Profile

Flashcom is currently the leader in providing high-speed, direct-connect xDSL technology nationally. AT&T and Flashcom have announced a multi-year, multi-million-dollar agreement to purchase wholesale access to the AT&T Global Internet backbone. Under the agreement, Flashcom will connect directly to AT&T's high-speed Internet backbone using AT&T's Managed Internet Service. AT&T's OC-48 Internet Protocol (IP) backbone and its highly reliable large-scale networks will enable Flashcom to bring their service to most of the country. Their servers will now be hosted with AT&T.

The company is currently in 19 major metro markets, with plans for 31 more by the end of this year. They offer full-service Digital Solutions Provider, as well as Virtual Private Network (VPN) solutions, firewall services, ISP/VAR reseller and wholesale programs. They are in the process of acquiring the Helfrich Company, a well-known engineering company, to augment these capabilities.