Trellix CTO thinks firm finally has the right idea

Electronic spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin intends to have the numbers add up in his favor for his company, one that has changed gears several times and is now focusing on Web site development tools.

4 min read
Dan Bricklin's original claim to fame changed the way businesses do business. Now Bricklin is back, this time trying to make Web publishing for consumers as easy as, well, 1-2-3.

Bricklin is best known as the inventor of the electronic spreadsheet VisiCalc. But it was Lotus Development that would ultimately take the idea and revolutionize business accounting with its Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet.

This time, Bricklin intends to have the numbers add up in his favor. His 5-year-old company Trellix has changed gears several times and now focuses on developing easy-to-use Web site development tools that Web sites can offer their customers.

The Concord, Mass.-based company appears to be gaining momentum.

Trellix recently announced deals to provide Web building tools and services to five Web sites: McGraw-Hill Learning Network, CommunityMe, Everycontractor.com, SamsDirect Internet and WholeHealthPro.com.

And over the next two weeks, Trellix is expected to announce several partnerships with Web technology and service providers targeting the small-business sector. As part of the agreements, Trellix will provide hosted tools and services for a fee to small-business customers of BizLand.com, a small business portal; Network Commerce, a technology and services infrastructure provider for small businesses; B2SB Technologies, a technology and service provider for small businesses; and others.

Financial details of the agreements were not disclosed.

The move into browser-based Web building tools is a natural evolution of the company, Bricklin said. In earlier lives, Trellix developed document-management software for PCs and later the Web. In 1998, the company debuted its desktop applications suite Trellix 2.0, a variation on the common word processor, tailored to Web use.

He said his products are following the natural progression of Internet communication tools such as e-mail and instant messaging, which grew from being simply PC applications to full-fledged Internet services offered by private-label Web sites hoping to add value to their sites.

Although the company insists it did well on the PC, many said the company was unable to get enough market visibility to make that a moneymaking strategy.

"They were known in the past by a small circle (of customers) as a go-to company for making solid tools for building Web pages," said Ray Boggs, an analyst with Information Data Corporation. "Joe Average doesn't know Trellix...so building relationships with major name brand Web pages is a great decision."

Trellix is looking to target the same people who go to Web destinations for their e-mail needs instead of using a PC-based application. "How many friends do you have who use Eudora as their home e-mail on their PC?" Bricklin asked.

The move to provide a completely browser-based tool set is a good strategy, analysts say.

"Trellix still has a client software, which is good at presenting information on screen," said Chris Shipley, an industry analyst and publisher of DEMOletter. "But as time moved on, Trellix tools began to be good for making very clean Web sites."

The seed of a Web strategy was planted in 1999, when the company made a new version of Trellix Web available free to small businesses and consumers through partnerships with Web-hosting providers Sage Networks and Prodigy Business Systems, hardware OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and online communities.

After having some success with the Web-hosted version throughout last year, Trellix began setting its sites on providing its tools and services to Web destination sites, targeting consumers and small businesses.

Today, Trellix's flagship product for Web destination sites is Trellix Web Express. Debuted last May, the Web site building tools and services allow Web sites to provide site building and hosting to their customers, either hosted on their own infrastructure or outsourced to Trellix. That same month, Web giant Lycos.com integrated the technology with its Tripod service. Over the past several months, Trellix has signed similar deals with small business online resource BizLand and Internet media company FortuneCity Network among others.

Trellix enjoys three revenue streams: up-front license fees, minimum service fees for hosting and managing the service, and consumer use fees. The privately held company would not disclose financial information.

It also enjoys blue-chip investors including Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Charles River Ventures, Dell Computer, Goldman Sachs, HarbourVest Partners, Lycos and Matrix Partners.

Bricklin serves as chief technology officer. Former Lotus executive Don Bulens is president and chief executive officer.

The company could be well positioned to reap the benefit of a growing number of family Web sites. According to the Pew Internet Project, 30 million Internet users are already members of families with family Web sites. Almost 50 percent of Internet surfers will be part of their own Web sites by spring 2001, according to NPD Online.

On the business market side, small businesses--those with fewer than 20 employees--will grow from 2 million in 1999 to 4.5 million in 2003, according to the International Data Corporation. The U.S. small-business Web hosting market will grow to $2.7 billion in 2001, according to the Yankee Group.

"In order to reach our dream, we need to know what the market needs," Bricklin said. "Who would have known that most people would go to Yahoo" for everything from e-mail to instant messaging to calendaring. "Who would have thought they would want their own Web pages as well?"

Trellix plans to add a digital camera feature to its site development tool later this year, which would enable people to upload images to their personal Web pages.

Bricklin said he is happy where his company is and where it is going.

"Since the beginning, we always wanted to help people communicate using the Web and that's what we're doing." he said.

CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, has a business relationship with Trellix.