In The News

Think Web hosting, data networking, user friendly

By Mark Watson
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
December 6, 2004

When 'Hurricane Elvis' knocked out the ability of many businesses to use their Web sites from their own offices in July 2003, lots of them found their way to White Station Tower, where WorldSpice Technologies maintained a comprehensive telecommunications system.

"Paul engineered a wireless system, and people were doing business in their SUVs in the parking lot," said Blake Weber, WorldSpice's chief operating officer as he stood in the first-floor network operating center. "We had this place crammed with other businesses."

"Our diesel generator ran for almost nine days," said Paul Tomes, WorldSpice founder. "We were the only business in the tower that had any power."

[Photo: Blake Weber and Paul Tomes in the WorldSpice NOC]

Blake Weber (left) is the chief operating officer of WorldSpice
Technologies and Paul Tomes is the president. Their business is
designed to be ahead of the curve for companies that rely on ISPs.

The July 22 windstorm afforded WorldSpice an opportunity to prove the value of its business model. In short, the company seeks to provide extraordinarily high levels of Internet services such as Web hosting, data networking and, in 2005, voice over Internet protocol.

"They really are a step above the rest when you are dealing with ISPs," said Chris Morse, information technology director of Plan Express, a Memphis company that uses the Web to take orders for the printing of construction plans that are shipped overnight around the nation. "We've experienced virtually no outages. The support staff is second to none. You don't get bounced around to five or six different people. When you're in a business that operates 24/7 and your livelihood is the Internet, that's a very valuable thing."

Large Internet service providers often outsource tech support to offices out of the customer's area or out of the country. In contrast, WorldSpice keeps tech support for its almost 3,000 customers in-house. All except two of WorldSpice's 25 employees can field those calls.

Outsourced call centers make their money based on how many calls they can handle, which puts pressure to reduce the amount of time spent with each customer. WorldSpice's only goal in a tech support call is to solve the customer's problem, Weber said. That kind of service has helped WorldSpice keep its existing customers and add new customers via word of mouth.

Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary in business in November, WorldSpice is now the Memphis area's largest locally owned ISP, Weber said.

One customer who has stuck around for nine of those years is Thompson & Co., an advertising agency.

"We tried (Tomes) out, and he helped me on some other projects," said Julian Smith, Thompson & Co.'s chief technology officer. "The service has always been good, so we stuck by him."

While a software engineer at Dover Elevator, Tomes started WorldSpice at his home with about $10,000 worth of equipment, providing the only kind of access to the Internet available at the time before the World Wide Web. It was one of only two ISPs in Memphis.

"I was starting a business, but I don't think I ever intended it to be this big," Tomes said. "I immediately filled the capacity of the small system that I built. I had demands to expand it, so it really went from there."

In those early days, a customer could afford more problems, said Tomes, who earned a degree in computer science at the University of Memphis. But now that so many businesses rely on a wide variety of applications, they require a much higher level of reliability, he said.

That's why WorldSpice rolled out Diverse Link in 2003. It offers high-speed Internet access using connections from two different services, so that if one is down, the other takes over.

In 1996, Weber and a partner bought Internet Connection Services, a one- year-old company, and named it Webnet Memphis. A former insurance executive who earned a degree in business while playing linebacker at the University of Arkansas, Weber and Tomes met on a local radio talk show in 1997, and started working together.

In 2000, the two companies merged. Webnet Memphis is the holding company that does business as WorldSpice, because that name is better known.

In 2002, WorldSpice launched GuestVelocity, a high-speed Internet access program for hotels, which is now in use in nine states. The first year of the war on terror was not a good year for trying to increase sales to the travel industry, Weber said.

"It really started picking up steam in this last year," Tomes said. "Our growth is steady -- steady manageable growth that is profitable."

WorldSpice Technologies - 901.843.9300