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Berners-Lee backs how-to site

Confused about your Internet strategy? A new start-up Mainspring launches a vendor-neutral, online advisory site.

3 min read
Call it the need-to-know business model.

Mainspring, a start-up company with a strategic advisory board that includes Web founder Tim Berners-Lee, is preparing to launch a vendor-neutral, online advisory site to answer questions on how best to use intranet and Internet technology.

Mainspring's bells and whistles will range from chats on various technology deployment topics to case studies of companies and the issues they face in finding solutions to their technology problems, including quarterly updates on studies and email exchanges with the their authors.

But as Mainspring prepares to launch its site April 11, it's not without competitors that range from product information publications to consulting firms operated by the Big Six accounting firms.

"Forrester Research has good analytical information and PC Week provides good information on products, but no one provides information on the benefits and how to use these products on a day-to-day basis in their company and how to deploy the products," said John Connolly, chief executive officer and cofounder.

Connolly, along with cofounder and vice president Steve Bayle, view their company as an information provider and plan to leave the servicing end of the business to consultants like those found at major accounting firms. He added that his company is holding discussions with Ernst & Young to provide information to the accounting firm's consultants.

Mainspring plans to charge a membership fee, ranging from an annual rate of $495 for one user to a monthy fee of $49.95.

The site will offer the following information: securing a site to selecting a database; live chats on specific topics; case studies on companies that have volunteered their IT departments to write quarterly reports on problems they face and answer questions via email; and directories of solution providers, product vendors, and system integrators.

"We're trying to provide actionable information," Connolly said. "We want people to read this and say, 'I now know what I need to do.'" He added Mainspring's staff will not promote products or conduct reviews, but rather discuss issues and include review articles from other publications that pertain to the topic.

"We're vendor-neutral, and we aren't going to say this or that is the best product," Connolly said.

The company, which received $11.1 million in venture funding from such investors as Softbank, Greylock Management, and Flatiron Partners, said its revenues will come from two sources. Mainstream will receive 75 percent to 80 percent of its revenues from membership fees; the remainder from companies that have paid fees to be listed in the directories.

Companies participating as case studies are volunteering their time and Mainspring hopes to have 100 businesses signed up by February 17.

Connolly expects the company to generate $3 million to $5 million in its first year and surpass the $15 million mark in 1998, and turn a profit. He also hopes the company and Wall Street will be in the right condition to launch an IPO in 1998.

The company is staffed with 36 employees and expects to grow to 60 by the end of the year.

Berners-Lee, who sits as a consultant on the strategic advisory board, will provide feedback on the quality of the service and strategic direction for the company given issues that arise with the Web.

Berners-Lee, who is much in demand as a consultant in the industry, said he decided to sit on Mainspring's board because it is vendor-neutral and in line with his work for the World Wide Web consortium, his assistant said.