Long distance commutes are a theme at Allenport, a virtual computing company that has just moved into new offices in Forrestal Center.
“I live in the Bay Area,” says Rand Barbano, Allenport’s marketing director, who is busy plotting a multi-pronged strategy for reeling in the 10,000 subscription customers that are needed to put his company in the black this year. Barbano does plan to move to Princeton in the spring, when his eight-year-old daughter’s school year ends. In the meantime he spends a lot of time in airports.
“I’ve learned two things from the commute,” he says. The first is that getting basic toiletries through airport security is an ordeal no one should have to face on a routine basis. “Now I make up a package of shaving cream, deodorant, and all of that kind of stuff and mail it to Princeton,” he says. The second is that, in his view, his company’s product makes it a whole lot easier to get work done on the road.
Allenport’s Virtual Filing Cabinet has been conceived as an all-in-one virtual computing system. It is designed to take the place of an office network — and at the same time to extend that network. Downloaded on each of a company’s PCs and laptops, it automatically backs up all data, synchronizes it, and provides for file sharing.
For someone like Barbano, who is on the road a lot, this means that work done on a laptop in hotel rooms, clients offices, or at 30,000 feet is being mirrored on the PC in his San Francisco home and on the PC in his Princeton office. “When I get home, I put the laptop away, and don’t touch it,” he says. There is no need to copy work done on the road. It is already on his PCs. There is never a question as to which is the latest copy of a report. All copies, on every computer, are identical. In the near future, Allenport will expand the office even farther, and will network in smartphones and PDAs.
A key feature of the company’s software is that files of all kinds can also be shared, both with others in the office and with outsiders, including people who are not Allenport customers. This feature is not yet available, but is expected to be ready within a few months.
Virtual Filing Cabinet is now in beta release, and is free to anyone who would like to try it. Just log on to www.allenport.com, register, and download the software. A full release of all features except file sharing is slated for March. Target customers, says Barbano, are small businesses, and especially professional offices. The product is expected to appeal to doctors, dentists, accountants, and attorneys. These professionals now generally have software to store patient or client records and often have crudely improvised computer networks. They may have some sort of back-up system, too. But for the most part their systems are not well integrated and they don’t have the ability to open a laptop at home or on the road and have access to all of the files on the office PC.
Virtual Filing Cabinet’s competition, says Barbano, is “do it yourself.” When he asks potential clients how they put together their office networks, he says that the answer is some variant of “it was my brother-in-law” or “it was a young cousin who just graduated from school.”
What his company offers, says Barbano, is a bundle of all of the networking and back-up systems a small business needs. Its pitch is that customers will “never back up again, never lose a file again, never be without their data again, never work on the wrong version of a file again, and always have the right files to the right people.” All files will exist both on Allenport’s servers and on the company’s own hardware.
The price for this service is $79.95 a month, which covers all of a small company’s PCs and laptops, and provides up to 25 gigabytes of storage. Packages that provide for more storage are available, but Barbano says that 25 gigabytes is more than enough for most small companies. “Ninety-five percent of businesses will not store that much,” he says. “The average office has two to three gigabytes of documents.”
Lots of photos will up that number, but, he says, it would take an awful lot of them to pass 25 gigabytes. One way to cross that barrier would be to add a lot of video, something that the average tax preparer, podiatrist, or oral surgeon is unlikely to do. The product is not designed for businesses that rely heavily on graphics. An ad firm generates so much colorful copy that it needs not gigabytes, but terrabytes of storage space. “Companies like that need their own servers,” says Barbano.
Virtual Filing Cabinet is now available only for Windows XP users, but Windows iterations all the way back to Windows 2000 will soon be ready. Macintosh users will have to wait a bit longer, but should be able to sign on before the end of the year.
Allenport is also offering its service to individuals, who, for $14.95 a month, can put all of their documents, photos, and music on a Virtual Filing Cabinet account. Barbano doesn’t expect individuals to make up a large part of his company’s business, but he does point out that his own family is enjoying the software as a way to keep up with one another’s news and schedules and to share photos.
Barbano, a San Francisco native, is making the move to Princeton, he says, because he believes in Allenport’s product, and in its founder, Joel Allen. After working for Hewlett-Packard for 18 years, Barbano, a 1971 graduate of the University of Oregon who has also been a teacher and the publisher of a small town newspaper, left to start his own consulting firm in 2003, and Allen soon became a client. He has been involved in the evolution of Allen’s idea from the beginning, and is now a full-time employee.
While Barbano’s commute is unusually long, Allen is intimately familiar with a far more extreme commute. His parents live in Arizona, but his father, an engineer, works in Kodiak, Alaska, and has done so for as long as Allen can remember. “My father runs the Kodiak launch site,” he says. “They launch rockets and things.” He is a little vague on the details, possibly because he is not allowed to visit. “It’s a joint venture of the State of Alaska and some private entity,” he says. “Other people can visit, but not me. I’m the rebel son,” he says with a laugh.
With his hair recently cut short as his business prepares for full launch, Allen doesn’t look like a rebel, or sound like one, either. But he does sound like a man who has blazed his own path from day one. He left college, Bryn Athyn, a school in Pennsylvania, after three-and-a-half years. “I quit before graduation,” he says. With another gleeful chuckle he adds that “my parents are still mad.”
Allen, 46, has never actually worked for anyone. After leaving school he bought a swimming pool supply business in the Philadelphia area and added a manufacturing arm. “We developed a jacuzzi vacuum we called Aardvark,” he says. “It was a limited success in the Northeast.”
He sold the company in 1986 and went back to Scottsdale, Arizona, to try his hand at real estate. His father, in addition to launching rockets in Alaska, was a pioneer in Arizona land acquisition way back in the 1960s. He recalls that his father bought up vacant desert land north of Phoenix, truly in the middle of nowhere, for $1,500 an acre. “It has always been the wild, wild West out there,” he says. “It was a crazy, wild, woolly market. You could just throw a dart at a map, buy anywhere.” His father’s friends warned him against the folly of buying raw land, not foreseeing the waves of northerners who would soon be clamoring for a spot in the desert sun. “My father did very well,” is how Allen characterizes the outcome of the land speculation.
Allen also did well. He started as a broker, and by 1988 was buying and selling raw land. He then began buying multi-family properties in and around Phoenix. By 1990 he had more than 600 units. At that point he also began working with lenders in the East who were going through the upheaval of the Resolution Trust Company (RTC) bailout that came after the mass failure of banks in the early 1990s. He says that he “did pretty well” dealing with the foreclosed properties, but that “it was a scary market. I was lucky to live through it.”
Those were frightening times, says Allen, and “very similar to the real estate market now,” which, he predicts, is going to get worse before it gets better.
He got out of real estate in 1994, when it was at or near the bottom. For his next venture he started Desert Craft, a company that made outdoor patio furniture for hotels and apartment houses. “I sold it in 1998,” says the serial entrepreneur. “It didn’t do very well.”
Then it was back into real estate, but only until another idea came to him. Well, actually it came to his wife, Lee, the mother of his four children, whom he credits for supporting him through all of his varied business ventures.
The pair were out driving one night when Lee noticed that the “bucks” part of a “Starbucks” sign had burned out. She wondered aloud if there could be a business in reporting such problems to advertisers. Running with the idea, Allen founded Siteview, a company that lined up clients, mostly owners of outdoor billboards, and took pictures of outdoor signs for them. “It was proof of performance for outdoor advertising,” he says. The company did well, but at the same time that he was building it, Allen was thinking along grander lines.
“I’m convinced that computers are terribly complicated and very confusing,” he says. “It’s a big problem for small businesses.” And he doesn’t think anyone is paying much attention to the issue. “Microsoft wants us to watch movies,” he says, “and Apple wants to sell us music.”
Paying less attention to Siteview, Allen turned his attention to a truly ambitious plan — to invent a new kind of computer, an easier to use computer, possibly with a touch screen, and definitely with built-in, easy-to-use software. It was an exciting idea, but when he took it to funders, he began to have serious doubts. “I was in a VC’s office and he looked at me with a disgusted look,” says Allen. “It reminded me of 1988 when I was in banks getting loans for land deals.”
Realizing that he had probably taken on a bigger project than he had intended, and also realizing that he really didn’t want to get into the difficult business of manufacturing hardware, he went away to think some more.
“People who have just bought a $2,000 laptop are not going to just get rid of it,” he says. “They’re probably using Microsoft. The truth is that we’re all using Microsoft. I’m not big enough to fight them. I don’t have the energy.”
Then one day while he was using an ATM it occurred to him that should that particular ATM blow up, or otherwise go away, it would not be a problem for him. He could simply go to another ATM. The data on his account would be right there — no matter on which coast or on what continent he happened to be when he needed to check his balance or get some cash. This was the eureka moment that led to the development of the Virtual Filing Cabinet. He would not try to replace the PC or the laptop. Instead he would create software that would make computers easier to use, back-up, and network.
He has been working on the idea ever since, and has funded it himself, along with one angel investor, who he will not name. He says that he doesn’t like the terms that VCs were offering and that, besides, he didn’t need the $20 million that most funders prefer to lend. His start-up costs were more like $2 million for the five years of R & D that have led up to the launch of the Virtual Filing Cabinet.
Allen located the company in Princeton, he says, “because I need to be where the talent is. The first two guys I hired were from Princeton. I figured that I could commute, but they needed to be spending their time working.”
Yes, Allen has quite a commute, too. He lives in Rydal, Pennsylvania. That is a good distance from Princeton, but is much farther from his company’s other office, which is in Kiev. Why Kiev? Well, says Allen, the reasoning is the same as that which led him to Princeton. “I found two really bright guys there,” he says. He has since added three more employees in Kiev and three more in Princeton, all working on R & D. He expects to add more employees soon, and is looking for a few good customer service and technical service people.
As for marketing, right now, says Barbano, “I’m the marketing department.” He may be handling advertising alone, but he has carefully thought out the plan, and emphasizes that he is definitely not operating in your father’s advertising environment. “Everything has changed in the last five years,” he says. Marketing, after all, is just information. And like all information it is in a state of constant flux. Consumers are rummaging around at will — cruising through blogs, chat rooms, and websites at lightening speed, being targeted as they ride elevators, buy coffee, and watch sports.
Marketing plans must now be fluid, and ready to switch directions in a second. They must also be in media that are easy to monitor. “We’ll use search engines. We’ll bid for keyword placement,” says Barbano. “And we’ll use banner ads. We’ll also advertise on websites that small business owners use, like the Wall Street Journal, and we’ll go to trade shows. We’ll try things two or three at a time, see what works, and then invest more or move on.”
The wild, wild west in which Allen, and his father before him, made a killing in real estate, has migrated. Gritty sand, cactus, and excavations as far as the eye can see have been replaced by gigabytes, encrypted data, and a virtual environment that shifts faster than sand in a wind storm. If it was scary turning hardscrabble lots into cash, it is exponentially more so to turn a new technology idea into a thriving business.
Packing up his San Francisco home and hunting for new digs in Princeton, Barbano is banking on Allen’s ability to do as well in the world of virtual computing as he did with leveraging sandy lots into valuable desert real estate.
Allenport Co., 125 Village Boulevard, Suite 330, Princeton 08540; 609-951-3700; fax, 603-687-5232. Joel Allen, CEO. www.allenport.com.
New in Town
Lynch, Osborne, Theivakumar & Gilmore LLC, 245C Nassau Street, Box 520, Princeton 08540-0520; 609-921-7770; fax, 609-921-7773. Michael Osborne, partner. www.lotlawfirm.com.
A four-partner law firm, Lynch, Osborne, Theivakumar & Gilmore, has moved into offices on Nassau Street. The firm practices in a number of areas, including commercial and residential real estate, wills, trust and estate planning. It also works in the areas of immigration and naturalization, securities, compliance and litigation, employment law, and commercial litigation.
Blue Beacon Capital, 23 Orchard Road, Suite 350, Princeton 08558; 908-281-9900; fax, 908-281-7900. Roger Valdovinos, founder and managing director. www.bluebeaconcapital.com.
Blue Beacon, a financial firm that specializes in mergers, acquisitions, financial restructurings, and valuations, particularly in the new media industry, has moved into offices at 23 Orchard Road, the building recently vacated by Computer Associates.
Kumon Math & Reading Center, 7 Tree Farm Road, Suite B210, Pennington 08534; 609-737-7718. Nehemiah Footman, instructor. www.kumon.com.
Kumon Math & Reading Center, an international educational facility, has opened a new branch in Pennington.
The school, which teaches fundamental math and reading comprehension skills to children kindergarten through 12th grade, now operates at 2 Tree Farm Road.
Andlogic Computers, 2974 Route 1 North, Princeton 08543; 609-243-0500; fax, 609-731-3757. Swapan Nandy, owner. Home page: www.andlogic.net.
Consulting firm RGB Computers, owned by Swapan Nandy, has changed its name and added services, including telephone and video consulting. The company has lost its lease, and is looking for new space.
Eastern States Properties, 6 Colonial Lake Drive, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-883-5711; fax, 609-883-5712. Scott Plapinger, manager.
Eastern State Properties, owners of the Lawrence Shopping Center on Route 1 South, has moved its offices to 6 Colonial Drive. The company moved from Broad Street in Hamilton to Whitehead Road temporarily before settling into a location at 2495 Route 1 in Lawrenceville.
Hotfoil Inc., 2960 East State Street Extension, Hamilton 08619; 609-588-0900; fax, 609-588-8333. Neville Richards, owner. Home page: www.hotfoil.com.
Hotfoil Inc., which designs and manufactures industrial electrical heating systems, has moved from its 101 North Gold Drive address in Robbinsville. (U.S.1 profiled Hotfoil in a cover story on August 14, 2002.)
The company now operates at 2960 East State Street Extension in Hamilton. A company spokeswoman said that Hotfoil, which has seven employees, made the move because it needed more space.
Linseis Inc., 109 North Gold Drive, Robbinsville 08691; 609-223-2070; fax, 609-223-2074. Mike Bissell, general manager. Home page: www.linseis.com.
Linseis Inc., a Germany based producer of recording instruments for scientific and medical applications, has moved its U.S. headquarters from 20 Washington Road in Princeton Junction to 109 North Gold Drive in Robbinsville. The move is to a larger space.
MGA Careers, 4365 Route 1, Suite 209, Princeton 08540; 609-919-0678; fax, 609-919-1201. Jessica Lewin, call center manager. www.mgacareers.com.
MGA Careers, an executive professional and placement agency, has moved from its offices in Carnegie Center to 4365 Route 1, Suite 209.
Princeton MarkeTech, 196 Princeton Hightstown Road, Princeton Junction 08550. 609-936-0021. www.princetonmarketech.com.
Princeton Marketech, an ad agency formerly known as Princeton Direct, has left its offices at 196 Princeton-Hightstown Road. The agency occupied Suite 15, which now is occupied by Alphion, a maker of devices for the optical telecommunications market. Princeton Marketech employed seven people. A call to the firm to determine the new address was not immediately returned.
Anichem LLC/Acton, 195 Black Horse Lane, Suite C, Monmouth Junction 08852; 732-821-6500; fax, 732-821-6008. Hong Zhou, owner. www.anichemllc.com.
When Anichem LLC moved from Princeton Corporate Plaza to its own building on Black Horse Lane, a sister company, Accellant, came along. Now the two companies go under one name, Acton. Anichem makes and supplies novel and synthetically versatile chemical intermediates to pharmaceutical, biotechnical, agrochemical, and specialty chemical industries.
Accellant offers specialty amino acids and chiral amines.
Menlo Worldwide (CNW), 24 Englehard Drive, Monroe 08831; 609-578-5300; fax, 609-578-5310. Ken Wood, facility manager. www.menloworldwide.com.
Menlo Worldwide opened a 221,300-square-foot multi-client logistics center two years ago, and now it is nearly tripling its space with a lease from Prologis just two miles away.
MicroDysis Inc., 1200 Florence Columbus Road, Bordentown 08505-4200; 609-945-0443; fax, 609-499-3647. Joseph Huang, principal. www.microdysis.com.
With a state grant in hand, Microdysis, which began life in the Trenton Business and Technology Center, moved to a state-supported incubator in Bordentown in March just before the Trenton Business and Technology Center closed down. Phone and fax are new.
Metro Service Group (MSG), 2650 Route 130 North, Cranbury.
Metro Services Group, a service provider for A&P Markets, has closed its offices at 2650 Route 130 North in Cranbury. The company has moved to Nassau County, New York, and can be reached at 516-921-5030.
Mill Supply and Hardware Co. Inc., 285-289 North Willow Street, Trenton. Home page: www.milsup.com.
Mill Supply, seller of industrial tools for manufacturers and architects, appears to have left its North Willow Street location in Trenton. Telephone and fax numbers have been disconnected.
Novelis, 9 Davison Avenue, Jamesburg.
Novelis, a metals producer that operated a remote sales office on Davison Road in Jamesburg, has closed the office down. Joyce Hyde, who ran the office, now operates in South Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and can be reached at 843-399-2014.
Princeton Autism Technology Inc., Box 1348, Princeton 08540; 609-731-6536; fax, 888-355-7161. Sharon Oberleitner, president. www.autismtechnology.org.
Sharon Oberleitner, president of Princeton Autism Technologies, recently dissolved the business, which funded programs and research for the autistic community.
But Oberleitner says the company’s work continues. “All the work we did didn’t go away, which is a good thing,” she says. She cites the funding of video programs and presentations that continue to educate the parents of autistic children
Oberleitner’s work in the field also continues. The mother of an autistic son, Oberleitner has helped found Caring Technologies www.caringtechnologies.org), which is based in Boise, Idaho, and New York City.
Begun with a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Health, Oberleitner hopes it will “change the way autism is treated.”
Behavior imaging is a video technology that records autistic behaviors to add to the understanding of the condition and to improve the lives of people afflicted with the disorder.
Sherlock Yandoli Financial Services 812 State Road, Princeton. www.sherlockyandoli.com.
The financial planning firm of Sherlock Yandoli has left its offices at 812 State Road.
In a transaction brokered by Mack-Cali Realty, Aetna Life Insurance Company has signed a new seven-year lease for 41,766 square feet at 3 Independence Way. The company is expected to begin occupying the offices in October.
The building in which Aetna has taken space contains 111,300 square-foot of space and is 88.3 percent leased.
Jonathan Meisel of Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc. represented the tenant. Mack-Cali was represented by Jack Colasurdo.
Robert Goheen, 88, on March 31. Goheen was the 16th president of Princeton University, serving from from 1957 to 1972. A service of remembrance and celebration will take place at a later date in the University Chapel.
Frances Olrich Lange, 86, on March 28. She was a founding member of the Princeton University Art Museum docent program.
Robert Fagles, 74, on March 26. A professor emeritus of comparative literature at Princeton University, his tranlations of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were best sellers.