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To call Reggie P. Best a “techie” would be an understatement. At the age of 20, he developed integrated voice and data technology while working at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories. By age 24, he was a supervisor there. A year later, the entrepreneurial bug bit, and Best cofounded his first company, Teleos Communications, a video networking company that is now part of Madge Networks.
Six years later, Best launched his second technology venture, AccessWorks Communications, an Internet and remote access company. As president and CEO, he steered the firm through an acquisition by 3Com Corp., where he became vice president and general manager and was responsible, during his four-year tenure, for quadrupling 3Com’s wide-area networking (WAN) business to $300 million.
Today, 40-year-old Best is president and CEO of what may be his most challenging start-up yet: Somerset, New Jersey-based Netilla Networks Inc. Founded in 1999, the 30-employee networking service firm supplies secure Web access to office applications. Put simply, the company’s product, Netilla Virtual Office, lets small to medium-size businesses use the Web as an “extension cord” to the office network.
The idea came to Best when he realized just how necessary virtual private networks (VPNs) were for these companies. But seamlessly and securely connecting remote employees can cost more than $100,000 for implementation alone; a typical Netilla Virtual Office service solution costs under $1,000 to implement, plus about a $580 monthly subscription fee for 25 to 100 users. According to market intelligence and business consulting firm Access Markets International (AMI), that small to medium-size market is worth chasing. In the U.S. alone, it accounts for about 7.5 million companies, of which a mere 1% of small businesses and 6% of medium-size businesses have VPN access. AMI predicts this number will jump to 17% for small businesses and 73% for medium-size businesses by year-end.
“Larger companies can afford to spend lots of money and hire internal IT resources to implement their remote networking solutions; small to midsize companies just don’t have the same resources,” says Best, who earned his bachelor’s of engineering degree in electrical engineering from City College of New York, and an M.S. in electrical engineering from Columbia University.
A small start-up, Netilla faced similar challenges in getting its own concept off the ground. Best started the company with about $1 million of his own money. This cash was spent on assembling the basic technology, approaching customers, creating pilot systems, and researching the marketplace. In the fall of 1999, he went in search of more funding, and in December 2000, received $6.5 million in venture capital funds with the help of friends, family, and angel investors.
During his hunt for cash, Best watched as the capital markets changed overnight from tech-friendly to tech-wary. So Best pitched his company to investors but also listened to their feedback, incorporating that information into Netilla’s business plan and into the business itself. Concurrently, he was building a strong management team and attracting a handful of early customers and business partners and relationships.
“That helped to confirm the market and