It’s common knowledge that the Internet is in its infancy. Thus, too, the Internet service provider (ISP) industry continues to mature. Early on as the Internet grew, so did the number of ISPs, which seemed to just mushroom on every corner of every town.
Since then the industry has done some shaking out and many of those original ISPs aren’t around today. However, one of the ISPs that is not only standing but thriving is Ayrix Technologies Inc. of Jackson.
“I think a lot of ISPs got into the business because they were fascinated with the technology, but they didn’t pay attention to the business side,” said Julie B. Jordan, CEO of Ayrix. “We started this company never intending to be small but always intending to be large. Because of that, we went ahead and got the financial capital required. We did our homework and we had a plan.”
It’s because of, rather than in spite of, this competitive environment that is at the heart of Ayrix Technologies Inc.’s growth. Ayrix was formed in January 1998 when it acquired three ISPs, two in Mississippi and one in Hammond, La. After the successful completion in March 1998 of a private placement which raised $1.5 million in capital, Ayrix acquired its fourth company located in Starkville.
In September 1998, Ayrix merged with Jackson-based Meta3. At the time Meta3, which had acquired World Access Solutions, Mississippi’s oldest and largest ISP in October 1997, hosted more domains than any other company in Mississippi.
Not surprisingly Ayrix now claims the title of being the largest ISP in the state. While being able to provide services to more people is a plus, being able to offer more services — to fully live up to the full service moniker — is just as important.
“I think one of our keys to success is that we’ve positioned ourselves as a full-service provider,” said Paula C. Ohlmeyer, executive vice president, marketing and sales. “So, our clients have one person that they can come to for their Internet solutions. They don’t have to deal with two or three other companies.”
Ayrix offers dial-up access to the Internet; ISDN (“dedicated connection”) for faster access; wireless communication links for voice, data and video allowing connections between remote sites; dedicated access for company-wide e-mail, Web access and file transfers; Web site development and hosting; training and education; and, technical consultation.
Another important factor Ayrix points to as the reason for its growth is its people. The three top officers of the company brought their own expertise and complement one another. Jordan has an engineering background and was with the Mississippi School for Math and Science, thus offers training skills. Ohlmeyer brought experience in running an Internet business from her previous position as owner of an ISP in Louisiana. And CFO David E. Crawford, CPA, came to Ayrix with money expertise from his career as a financial advisor.
Likewise, the employees’ duties are specialized in their fields of experience, though they are required to cross-train in other areas. While technical knowledge and other skills are important, Jordan said the company is more interested in character and work ethic.
One of the biggest challenges facing Ayrix in the future is simply to find a way to top its phenomenal early growth. The company started with six employees and it now houses 40. And its original 1,200 clients have now grown to about 10,000. Still, Ayrix remains confident of its continued growth because the untapped market is so immense.
“We looked at it last year, at the number of small and mid-sized businesses that had a Web site. Mississippi — percentage-wise — was at the low end of the scale in the Southeast,” Crawford said. “That’s why we saw so much potential here. What we have to do is focus on customer service, quality of service and area of coverage.”
The senior management of Ayrix said they are determined to continue to increase the company’s presence. Currently with 11 POPs (on-site modems), Ayrix is looking to add three more in the next three months. The company is also in discussion with three other companies about possible acquisition. Crawford said the company, already in two state, has “feelers” in Tennessee and Alabama. And the company is doing work on an initial public offering which the company is hoping to be completed by the end of this year.