Princeton's Business and Entertainment Weekly
May 1, 2002
Computer Festival Child Becomes a Keynote
The Trenton Computer
Festival is 27 this year. No personal computer show in the country has had such
a long run. Not much older than the show, Ari Kaplan, who first saw a computer
in the basement of Allen Katz, a founder of the festival, is well on his way to
making a fortune in the computer field. Kaplan is founder and CEO of Expand
Beyond, a Chicago-based start-up that develops wireless software that allows
database professionals to fix their systems from anywhere in the world.
Kaplan delivers the keynote at the festival on Saturday, May 4, at 3:35 p.m. at the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday, May 4, and Sunday, May 5. A flea market opens an hour earlier on both days. Cost: $15 each day; children under 12 free. Call 609-730-0746 or visit www.tcf-nj.org.
Founded by Katz, of the College of New Jersey, and by Sol Libes, of the Amateur Computer Group of New Jersey, the festival is sponsored by a number of groups, including IEEE Princeton/Central Jersey Section, ACM/IEEE Princeton Chapter, Central Jersey Computer Club, the College of New Jersey Engineering Department Scholarship Fund, and the Amateur Computer Group of New Jersey. Speakers include Josephine Giamo of New Cognitive Systems on How Usable Is this Website; Carl Galletti of PC Marketing on Secrets of Internet Marketing; Douglas Ferguson of Intel on Extreme Media: Different Ideas for the Telephony Service Provider; Eva Kaplan of the Pennington Computer School on Best Websites, Software, and Games for K-8 Grades; and Rebecca Mercuri of Bryn Mawr College on Why Computers Shouldn't Count Votes.
Publicity for the event is being handled by Eva Kaplan, who is Kaplan's mother. A pioneer in computer education, she opened a computer school for children some 20 years ago. Kaplan's father, Gerry Kaplan, now with General Electric, was an engineer at RCA's satellite division when he was growing up. The Kaplans were friendly with Katz, and that is how Kaplan came to spend time hanging out in Katz's basement working with computers.
Before he turned 10 Kaplan was using Katz's computers to program. "At nine years old, I was writing video games and speech recognition software," he recalls. At about that time, his family got their first computer, a TRS-80. It was a Model T compared with the fast computers that came later, but it was powerful enough so that Kaplan could create adventure games.
As a teenager, Kaplan, a Mets fan and founder of a David Cone fan club, developed player development and scouting software for Major League Baseball. "The metrics used to evaluate players, trade players, and set salaries were based on statistics that were not mathematically sound," he says. An example, he says, is that a relief pitcher's main job is striking out -- or otherwise erasing -- "inherited runners," the players the starting pitcher leaves on base. "Yet," he says, "there were no statistics that said how well he does at keeping these players from scoring."
Likewise, there were no statistics that assigned blame to a starting pitcher for letting those players get to base. Kaplan's statistics, developed while he was a freshman at Cal Tech (Class of 1992), provide a way of factoring the fate of those base runners into evaluations of both starting pitchers and relief pitchers.
Kaplan went on to computerize the whole process of scouting potential ball players. Scouts, he says, have always looked at a large number of factors -- "how aggressive players are, how they handle emotions, whether they're married, how fast they get to first base." Instead of taking notes on paper, scouts, using Kaplan's software, can type their observations into a laptop, where it goes into a database their bosses can access to get look at a player's attributes. "Now," he says, "they can find the best hitting third baseman in a second. It used to take weeks."
Kaplan says one third of all major league teams use his software and data bases, and he continues to work on them, but only in his free time. His main business interests are elsewhere.
After graduating from Cal Tech, Kaplan went to work for Oracle as a database administrator, developing databases for a number of large organizations, including Hallmark, Merck. He then became an independent contractor, working on projects for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and U.S. Robotics, the maker of Palm Pilots, which was subsequently acquired by 3Com.
Whether he was an employee or a contractor, Kaplan encountered the same frustration on every single assignment -- a frustration he says all database administrators, and most IT professionals, share. He would no sooner leave the office, armed with a pager and a cell phone, than he would get a call. The system was down, or running slowly, or in some kind of trouble. "I would have to scramble back to the office," he says. "When DBAs (database administrators) and other IT people leave," he says, "companies are helpless."
The need to be onsite to fix problems means that IT professionals spend a lot of time making U-turns on freeways, jumping up from dinner tables, and flying home early from vacations. And during the time it takes for these harried information experts to get back to home base, their employers are losing money, often lots of money. "Every minute delay costs companies efficiency and money," says Kaplan. Unplanned downtime can cost a company $6,000 to $8,000 a minute, and in some cases more than 10 times that amount.
Thinking about this, Kaplan came up with the idea of developing wireless software that would give database administrators the ability to look inside their databases from a beach or movie theater lobby or kitchen far, far away from the office. And not just look inside the systems, but also fix them, and get them back online. In late 1999 he founded Expand Beyond (www.xb.com) to develop such software. The company began to market its first product, PocketDBA in March, 2001, and attracted $11.2 million in first round funding from Menlo Ventures and angel investors in September, 2001.
Expand Beyond now has 40 employees, including Rachel Greene, the company's vice president of marketing, and now Kaplan's wife. Before he brought her on board, Greene was in charge of the milk mustache marketing campaign. Says Kaplan proudly: "She did it through the first 60 celebrities."
Expand Beyond is marketing its software to all kinds of companies -- any company with a database is a potential client. Clients include Best Buy, the U.S. Patent Office, the Department of Defense, and fast food chain Steak & Shake.
The company licenses the software for $600 per database, per year. A small company would have one to 10 databases, says Kaplan, a middle-size company 10 to 30 databases, and a large company, 30 databases and up. These databases keep track of everything from inventory to customer information, payroll to manufacturing records.
PocketDBA installs on wireless devices, including cell phones, Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs. The company makes just one version of the software. As it is installing, the software determines what type of device it is going into and makes the necessary adjustments. This means that it does not matter if some of a company's database administrators use Palm Pilots and some use Pocket PCs. The two kinds of devices have different operating systems, and PocketDBA works with each of them.
With PocketDBA installed, database administrators can fix problems from anywhere. Kaplan says competing software allows IT employees to look into a database from a remote location, but that his product is the only one that lets them get the systems back up and running. He fully expects that other software will soon include this capability, but meanwhile, he says, Expand Beyond has the first-to-market advantage.
Expand Beyond is not yet profitable, says Kaplan. The company is spending its time -- and money -- on placing PocketDBA in companies around the globe. It has a new product, PocketAdmin, and other products will follow, taking many IT tasks wireless. Kaplan's exit strategy is an IPO. "We plan to feed the marketplace, get everyone using the software, and add additional products." Then, he says, the time will be right for an IPO, if, that is, stock market conditions have strengthened.
In any case, Kaplan has come a long way from Katz's basement. For one thing, he now owns no fewer than seven computers of his own, five of them wireless hand helds, which were still a couple of decades short of market when Katz helped to organize the first Trenton Computer Festival 27 years ago.
ny case, Kaplan has come a long way from Katz's basement. For one thing, he now owns no fewer than seven computers of his own, five of them wireless hand helds, which were still a couple of decades short of market when Katz helped to organize the first Trenton Computer Festival 27 years ago.
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