Web Hosting Interview - AIT February 2008

Web Hosting Interview - AIT February 2008

Clarence E. Briggs III, Founder and Former CEO of Advanced Internet Technologies, Inc. (AIT)

Clarence E. Briggs III is world renowned for being both a military man and web hosting entrepreneur. An ex-infantry officer and veteran of the first Gulf War and Operation Just Cause in Panama, Briggs established Advanced Internet Technologies, Inc. (AIT) in 1996 - an organization that remains 80% "Prior Military" owned. His past military connections and an understanding that it can be difficult for veterans in civilian life manifests in promotions such AIT's regular "Veterans Day Special". His overwhelming sense of fair play has manifested in a number of lawsuits, the most ambitious, an action against Google who, he suggested, was not doing enough to fight click fraud. He didn't stop there though. Leaving his position as CEO of AIT Mr. Briggs set up tyBit - a revolutionary client-side Internet Search Application that he hopes will give Google a run for its money. Reaching the one million subscriber milestone as early as late last year, that might just happen. We ask Mr. Briggs about his web hosting experience, search engine ethics, and just where he expects tyBit to go from here.

  • HOSTSEARCH: Mr. Briggs - thanks for meeting us like this; very nice of you. Perhaps you could tell our visitors a little about yourself and the route you took to get to your current tyBit project.
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: The impetus behind tyBit was our adverse experience with click fraud and there is no education like adversity. As search engine advertisers, we became very frustrated with the percentage of fraudulent clicks for which we were being billed. After leading the class action against Google and all the litigation, we decided to build a better mouse trap and that is tyBit, a client-side search engine that benefits users with accelerated search of multiple engines, advertisers with "no-click-fraud" and partners with a subscriber base with a 40% gross revenue share.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You are well known as being a military man, and I believe you were a major in the infantry. How did your army career shape your aspirations for AIT?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: : The truth is "I" like everyone else is shaped by all we have seen and done and the truth is my military career was at a crossroads. After my second ACL knee reconstruction, I was confined to a desk job and loathed it. I wanted to be an Infantry Battalion Commander but injury made that unlikely. About the same time I went to the staff job, the Internet was picking up and I became interested and eventually obsessed with it. The Army teaches you how to anticipate outcomes by war gaming and identifying opportunities to win so the emerging Internet industry was perfect - full of uncertainties and challenges.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You are often quoted as saying that AIT is "80% 'Prior Military' owned. What exactly does that mean?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: We are staffed by 80% prior service or service affiliated employees. Because we are next to Fort Bragg, we have Army Special Operations Command, 18th Airborne Corps with the 82nd Airborne Division, FORSCOM Headquarters and so on. That means we have quite a few ex-military, military spouses or relatives of military folks. There is an abundance of managerial and technical talent here.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Is it overstating the case to say that AIT is as much a cause as it is a business?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: Interesting question. I started AIT so anyone could have their own business at an affordable cost doing what they wanted to do on the web. After all, we are supposed to be a nation of shopkeepers in the United States. I guess if it were merely a business, I would have sold when the valuations were busting. Actually, I don't think any successful business starts and rises without an extreme sense of purpose or cause with lots of perseverance to overcome the countless days and nights of doubt and stress.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Tell us a little about the services AIT offers. It seems you offer a total solution. And what exactly is 'heroic support'?  
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: We have been around a long time - since 1995. A lot of our technology is proprietary and we offer everything from shared, VPS to dedicated and enterprise hosting as well as software and site development. Microsoft actually selected us some years ago to host their SharePoint solution as part of bCentral over several hosting companies. Heroic support starts with me. My email address is available to customers and that goes for all my senior management. We run a 24x7 in-house operation with 800 toll free support. Once a quarter, my senior staff and myself go work in the customer service center, interfacing directly with customers so we have a feel for what issues they are having. Many of my employees provide the personal numbers to clients and tell them to call them anytime if they have issues. Heroic support simply put is make two grins where there was once only a grimace. It is also 12 years of profitability in business without any outside funding. I have seen many hosting companies rise and fall and disappear over the years.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: It's clear you have to be brave to be in the military, but it seems your bravery has carried over to your business career. You have been involved in a lot of lawsuits, Google probably being the most famous. Not many people would take a stance like you do - what drives you to do it?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: I wouldn't necessarily say bravery is a requirement to be in the military, there were a few times that I shook like mad, felt intense nausea and uncertainty while shooting at and being shot at by enemy forces in a firefight. In the end, we all make choices and are the sum of those choices for better or worse. These days, we don't duel anymore and you just don't go to war and shoot someone every time there is a problem. Instead, we use the legal system to right a wrong. I guess some would say that the best "business decision" would have been to let things go with Google and FPC, but I have a hard time doing that, for better or worse. I fear the crucible of my own conscience more than I do a lawsuit with Goliath. What's right is right and what is wrong is wrong and any man who watches the wrong and just stands there without doing or saying something may as well have committed it himself. The way to make a crooked stick straight is to bend it the other way or break it. Unfortunately, corruption is everywhere, including our legal system and when enough money talks the truth is often silent. Each of us when confronted with that has to make an individual choice, whether to or whether to not. I made mine.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And soon after your action with Google you quit as CEO of AIT to lead the tyBit initiative. For the benefit of our visitors who are not aware of what it is, can you give them an overview of tyBit.
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: There is a lot to talk about and the best thing to do is visit www.tyBit.com for the details. For users, tyBit searches multiple engines and retrieves the most relevant in terms of source, timeliness and your preferences. It also has a anti-spyware/malware NANOSCAN built in and accelerates you Internet experience. My favorite is the "shop" function that scours the web for lowest prices on products and services. Although in Beta, the ad module is up and running and we have nearly 5,000 advertisers. Once we go live, we are going to give them they have not had to date from the search engines - a clean bill that shows exactly what they were charged for without click fraud. For our partners, we are providing a co-branded or private label solution with a 40% gross revenue share. One million subscribers yields about $140,000 per day.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What's your overall objective with tyBit? Realistically, can tyBit ever offer Google genuine competition and, if it can, when do you think it will happen.
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: I think tyBit will compete successfully with Google because it is a better business model in terms of partners and offers a better search experience for users. We are in Beta yet already have 84 major partners in the pipeline, many signed, representing over 62 million tyBit™ search engine users worldwide. The kickoff will be after we put the bells and whistles on the ad module and release the long waited for Partner Module. I've given us 4 to 5 years but think it may be even sooner than that. The irony is had it not been for click fraud and Google, there would not have been tyBit, at least not from us. I remember competing against much better financed hosting companies back in the day. Many are gone and AIT is still here. I love a tough challenge.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You have been in hosting for quite a while now. What, if any, are your main concerns about web hosting as it stands?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: I think the market is commoditized unless you own your own technology or have carved out a specialty niche. I also see, quite frankly, the search giants getting into web hosting and domain registration and in fact they have. That will make it difficult for any hosting company, large or small, to compete unless they are doing something unique to differentiate themselves.
  • HOSTSEARCH: From your perspective, do you think hosting has a bright future or are there clouds on the horizon? If there are clouds, what are they?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: Well, partly sunny, partly cloudy. How's that for a weatherman's ambiguous answer? The clouds are there alright. First, search giants offering domain registration and web hosting for free to attract advertisers or affiliates who do domain monetization. With this comes price compression, which certainly is another factor hosting has been dealing with these days. For those who own their own technology like control panels, shopping carts, content management, and who are in specialty vertical markets, things look a bit sunnier. tyBit can help here too, as it will enable hosting companies, domain registrars...anyone with a user or subscriber base the opportunity to take advantage of a $35 Billion Dollar a year market.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You took a difficult route coming out of the army and starting up a high-tech business, so you are probably better positioned than most to give advice. For our visitors who are starting up web hosting businesses, what underpins a successful hosting operation?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: If you are going to do it, do it and hold nothing back. I could sit here and say pay attention to your client's needs and wants, develop training plans and standard reports, audit regularly and read this book or that. But the truth is that the only way people ever succeed at anything is to cut off all avenues of retreat to create that burning desire necessary to win.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the Internet - not just in hosting - and how will it impact people's lives.
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: tyBit of course. We are going to combine search, social networks and 3D modeling in a way to spread the money around. Money is like manure. Spread it around and everything grows green. Keep it in a pile and it stinks.
  • HOSTSEARCH: You are obviously fired with a passion for what you are doing, but what do you do when you aren't working? How do you like to spend your free time?
    CLARENCE E. BRIGGS III: When I was younger, all the things I spent my free time on were dangerous, immoral, fattening or unhealthy. These days, I spend as much time at home as possible with my wife and kids. I like to go fishing when it's warm, ride dirt bikes, cookout and hang out with the family. My oldest son is in wrestling now so I go to as many of his matches as possible. And, I have recently discovered gaming, although I am not much good at it.

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