Bigstep.com makes businesses 'E' for free
July 9, 1999
by Jackie Cohen
(IDG) -- A startup called Bigstep.com is Web-enabling businesses by giving them sophisticated sites that don't cost a cent and don't flash a single ad.
Plenty of companies offer do-it-yourself packages to help bring small businesses online. Yahoo (YHOO) Store, for example, hosts and rents simple storefronts for around $100 a month. But Bigstep.com will not only host a company's site for nothing, but also give away a slew of free technologies and services that normally would not get implemented in a first-generation site.
Some of the advanced functionality includes tracking customer contacts; creating profiles and analyzing customer data; targeted marketing and loyalty programs; managing communications, inventory and logistics; and even a bit of management consulting.
"We're focused on turning small businesses into e-businesses, from the Web site to their intranets," explains Andrew Beebe, CEO of Bigstep.com, which is based in San Francisco. "We spent the last year talking to small businesses, and they told us not to put ads on the site. 'They're annoying,' they said. 'And we don't want to be charged for the Web sites,' they said."
Instead, Bigstep.com plans to earn revenue through sponsorships. Sponsors will pay Bigstep.com a fee for the opportunity to supply technology and services to the small companies that sign up for their Web sites. After giving these small businesses a free taste of their goods, the sponsors are counting on them to get hooked. Then, the sponsors hope, when the companies eventually expand, they'll want to purchase more software and hardware.
So far, 16 companies have signed on as partners. Two will cobrand Bigstep.com's site and provide marketing services: FirstUSA will market Bigstep.com to its sizeable base of credit-cardholders, and the Washington Post Newsweek Interactive will do the same to the small businesses in its reader and advertiser bases. Bigstep.com will also work with the Direct Marketing Association and the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a unit of the Small Business Association.
Partners providing technology for Bigstep.com include AUNET, an Internet service provider with business customers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and the United States; AboveNet Communications, which provides hosting; Art Technology Group, which sells application servers; and Excalibur and MapQuest, which provide search and mapping capabilities to sites. Bigstep.com is also being sponsored by bot maker Neuromedia; loyalty program vendor MyPoints; credit-card-processing company CardService International; commerce server company ClearCommerce; graphics software maker Macromedia (MACR) ; database giant Oracle (ORCL) ; and Sun (SUNW) Microsystems.
Over 100 small businesses have signed up since Bigstep.com went live earlier this week – in addition to the 75 that joined an initial beta test. All of these customers heard about the service through word of mouth, as the company hadn't begun to market the site.
In offering free Web sites to everyone, Bigstep.com could pose a serious threat to the "cheap" Web sites offered by some portals, ISPs and other sites, who tend to rent them out for a monthly fee. Consequently, some observers already view Bigstep.com as a possible acquisition target. "Maybe they'd get acquired by Yahoo, although they'd undercut Yahoo Store," says Ray Boggs, an analyst at International Data Corp.
But Bigstep.com says it has no plans to be acquired - yet. The privately held company just closed a $10 million round of venture funding from U.S. Venture Partners and the Mayfield Fund.
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