BlueStar Communications may be bankrupt - and blamed, at least in part, for the demise of Covad Communications, the largest wholesaler of DSL - but a key executive of the Tennessee company is back in a saddle, with a new DSL play and the enthusiastic support of his former customers.
Cliff Duffey, BlueStars former chief technology officer, is reportedly in the final stages of raising funds for his Nashville, Tenn., startup, Cybera. The company launched with $250,000 in seed money from angel investors just after Duffey left BlueStar. The new infusion is nowhere near the size of venture spending that was typical during the telecom mania of the 1990s, but is still substantial for a young company.
"We sold BlueStar to Covad in September, and Ill say that I wasnt very happy about how I knew things were going to go, so I mustered my way out as quickly as I could," Duffey said. "There was a lot of turmoil. They fired [CEO] Bob Knowling, whom I liked a lot, and it was clear that BlueStars vision for advanced retail services was not clicking with Covad."
Knowling left Covad last November.
But Duffey apparently learned a key entrepreneurial lesson: Start small, grow carefully and keep it simple for the customer.
BlueStars former headquarters was in Nashvilles ritzy downtown, where BellSouths tower dominates the skyline, just a stones throw from Music Row, the glitzy country recording mecca.
Cybera, by contrast, has offices in a blue-collar area of the city, with inexpensive office space and lots of free parking. Duffey envisions his company going after the business of Southern companies that have nationwide operations. The new game plan: sell bandwidth bundled with virtual private networks (VPNs).
"A typical VPN company today installs firewalls and manages those from remote," said Duffey, Cyberas president and CEO. "We have built a smart network, where the routers, firewalls and even the server functionality is all built into our core network, so we are able to link together all of the customers locations and give them all of the security features they need without having to deploy any boxes on their premises."
Cybera leases connectivity from network partners, and supports its VPN capability through a technological partnership with CoSine Communications, a vendor that Qwest Communications International and NEC use to support their network VPN services. Duffey said that Cyberas DSL-VPN combo will retail for about $399 per month.
Cybera beta customers - many of whom know Duffey from his BlueStar days - see the new venture as a source of high-speed bandwidth with VPN capability, and have utmost faith that Duffey would make this new service work for them.
"Cliff is the absolute leader in middle Tennessee, or I should say the mid-South, for Symmetric DSL knowledge. The guy is on it," said Bill Spencer, CEO of Slam Digital Works, a high-tech marketing firm. "If Cliff builds it, we will come."