In the year that the World Wide Web was born, a hospital pharmacist and an engineer each anted up $500 to start Nashville's first Internet Service Provider in a spare room.
Their belief in tomorrow's technology has paid off. Under the careful watch of president Jerry Dunlap and vice president Ken Russell, ISDN-Net is now the premier ISP in Tennessee and has hit an unusual trifecta in the Internet world - growing, profitable and debt-free.
"The way we run our business is to keep it profit-based," Dunlap says. "Our goal is to have the best reliability for our clients and make a profit. It's that simple."
ISDN-Net's annual revenues in 2000 were nearly $6 million. The company is growing at more than 100 percent a year and has posted double-digit profits for the last four years - a direct contrast to the precarious state of the Internet industry. From the beginning, the company has set its business sights on tangible goals - revenue and profit - and not lines sold or customers signed up. It is a business retelling of the classic tortoise and the hare story.
"Since the company's inception we haven't had to borrow money to fuel our future," Dunlap says. "We focused on growing with what we had. It was hard, but we're the one left standing."
ISDN-Net is now Tennessee's oldest and largest Internet Service Provider. It serves the Tennessee business community with broadband Internet connectivity - including Dial-Up, ISDN, DSL, T1, T3, OC3, OC12 and wireless connections. ISDN-Net also provides wholesale ISP service, Internet security/firewall systems, content filtering, wide area networks, web design and e-commerce. The company serves more than 3,000 businesses. Its extensive infrastructure has made Tennessee the networking leader in the Southeast --providing Internet access to 90 percent of the state's 95 counties.
This success story began in 1992 when Dunlap, a hospital pharmacist who ran several computer bulletin boards as a hobby, was asked by the state Public Service Commission to head up a pilot project to bring ISDN service to Tennessee. He linked up his bulletin boards, some universities and high schools, and a hospital, making Tennessee the first state in the Southeast to be networked.
Dunlap soon met with Russell, an engineer, on the FYI Tennessee team. FYI was a state campaign to wire the entire state with a broadband digital infrastructure. As their work progressed on FYI, the men became increasingly aware of the vast business potential presented by the Internet.
When commercial traffic was allowed on the Internet in 1994, the two were ready and began ISDN-Net, signing up Gibson Guitars as their first business client.
The two ran the company out of a spare room in Dunlap's Bellevue home for the early years. They began signing up business clients and now count among their major clients Opryland Hotel, Genesco, Bridgestone/Firestone, Baptist Hospital and Education Networks of America, which provides Internet access to all of Tennessee's K-12 public schools.
ISDN also owns the regional exchange point in Nashville and co-owns a facility in Knoxville, N-rep in Nashville and Digital Crossing in Knoxville. These community gateways to the Internet house routers, web servers and other equipment for several local and national ISPs in one location (called "co-location"). These joint locations allow Internet traffic to be routed locally instead of going out to the major Internet backbone, improving service performance for area users.
These days, Dunlap focuses on the operations and Russell on new business development. Dunlap, who knows every inch of the company's network, keeps tabs on each of the several thousand data circuits to track traffic and schedule upgrades.
Russell focuses five years ahead, trying to divine where the Internet will go and building the infrastructure to take it there. Considering how the Internet has changed the business world in the last decade, Russell finds it fascinating to try and look ahead - seeing HDTV, advanced agent technology, wireless connectivity.
"I think we'll see as many changes in the next two years as we saw in the last five," he says. "Our goal is for our network to be able to respond to that demand."