Local developer's US success 'blamed' on Web-based marketing

Local developer's US success 'blamed' on Web-based marketing

Fiona Wilkie, president of Platypus Partners, talks about the company's Java solution that allows workstations to talk to mainframe apps over the Internet and its market success.

Java e-commerce and business-to-business communications seem like a match made in heaven. The industry's biggest players seem to think so too, and are betting on the future success of Java. Many small players are following right along, and my company, Platypus Partners, is one of them.

A few friends pooled our resources and started a network software development company. Looking ahead to the future world of Internet commerce, we saw the need for better communications between disparate machines, especially mainframes.

After quitting our jobs and cashing in our 401Ks in the hope that the big guys are going to be right, we spent a year developing a Java applet that allows PCs, Unix, Linux and OS/2 workstations (Mac is coming) to talk to IBM 3270 mainframe applications over the Internet. This is done through a Web browser on each workstation and requires a Telnet server on the host. Our product, JET 3270, finds any IBM mainframe over the Internet with an IP address. Each operating system and browser requires separate applets to support the same function so we actually wrote many applets (JET now supports 18 applets) before the product was ready.

While JET 3270 may sound impressive, it really is nothing more than a terminal emulator that applies a new technology to an old method of data communication. Terminal emulators have been around forever, so one would think that anyone who needs a Java terminal emulator must surely have one already. But we thought we would check, just to make sure.

We tried a variety of marketing and research techniques to see if we had quit our jobs in vain. We put JET up on our Web server, offered free product trial by download, and did a little advertising. Nothing happened. We joined several ISV developer partner programs relevant to our product. This gave us the opportunity to participate in larger announcements, be listed on bigger Web sites, and basically ride piggyback for attention. Again, no impact! We certified JET 100% Pure Java with Sun Microsystems. This effort was costly and time consuming. We thought it would bring us credibility, attention, and sales. You guessed it, no impact.

Then, just when it looked like we had all made a very big mistake, we looked further into Web marketing. We learned everything we could and got ourselves listed on the first pages of each search engine. Suddenly, things started to happen.

Large companies from all over the world downloaded and evaluated JET. It took several iterations, but now, one year later, JET 2.2 is installed at 37 companies in eight countries. These companies are in the finance, telecommunications, manufacturing, education, government and medical industries, and everywhere in between. They all have mainframes - and a lot of money invested in them - and are extending host access to employees working from home, travelling, business partners, and even replacing remote and local office communications with JET.

We have learned that customers demand quality from an Internet company. People use the Internet to educate themselves quickly - and many products and information are free. If you want people to buy something from a software company that lives and breathes on the Web, it better be good, and it better be affordable. Customers still perceive such purchases to be high risk, particularly since support and service are not proven and company stability is unknown. The strengths in our strategy are our ability to develop, deliver quickly and to sell quality low-cost products.

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