A suite of Internet services for small business was launched in Sydney last week by application service provider Peakhour, which offers Web site construction, hosting and e-mail, free for the first year.
Peakhour CEO David Harrington quoted recent statistics showing that 7 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses in Australia, which generate approximately 30 per cent of Australia's GDP, want an Internet presence.
But he said that many owners feel intimidated by IT jargon, afraid of committing to high costs, and unsure of how to do it. The larger IT players have found it difficult to serve this market because of its diffuse nature and diversity.
Peakhour has targeted small business exclusively, Harrington said, adding: "We intend to own this space. We want to put an end to small business . . . by helping make it bigger."Peakhour's vehicle for this is the newly launched "freeBiz", an advertising-supported suite of tools and services. It offers subscribers a set of templates for building a five-page Web site, unlimited-access hosting for the site and five e-mail boxes, search-engine registration and free or low-cost tech support.
Construction and configuration is done through a "Dashboard" which can be accessed by the subscriber from anywhere in the world via a standard browser.
To ensure that Peakhour's infrastructure can cope with demand, the scheme has a cap of 20,000 subscribers of which the first 1000 are already signed up. A TV ad campaign will start shortly.
A freeBiz subscription is free for the first 12 months. The catch is advertising: banner ads on the subscriber's site. But "smallflorist.com", for example, won't see competing florists' ads appearing on its home page.
The banners come from large institutions such as banks. In fact, Harrington noted, many SMEs see the presence of ads from "the big end of town" as an enhancement to their own image, rather than a distraction.
After the first year, subscribers are invited to upgrade to a variety of more sophisticated paid services Peakhour offers, starting at about $25 per month.
These can include e-commerce facilities backed by Secure Socket Layer encryption.
Subscribers' sites, said a Peakhour technical spokesman, run on the same back-end systems, such as Windows 2000 and SQL databases, as Peakhour's own business systems.