Last year while in Hannover, my glasses lost a hinge screw which caused a lens to fall out. It was mid-evening with all the optical stores closed; I had to catch an early morning train to Cologne. Fortunately, aided by my Swiss Army knife, a micro-surgically-adept colleague at dinner was able to figure out how to put it back together or I may have missed seeing a lot of European countryside the next day. In 1996 Paul Lantinga, a Toronto native, was on an IT consulting assignment in India and lost his glasses to a surfing wave and had fuzzy vision until he could find an optometrist who could create a new pair.
During the same assignment he came across a pair of prescription goggles that swimmers could wear instead of standard eyeglasses. But they were made in Taiwan and not found anywhere when he later returned to North America. According to a story earlier this week in the Globe and Mail Report on Business, he was so impressed that he recognized the geographical market opportunity and, in 2005, founded a distributorship, See Worthy, Inc. based out of Toronto, for importing these glasses into Canada, U.S. and the Caribbean. Combining scenarios of beaches at water’s edge, he branded the glasses Sable Water Optics.
Having been an IT consultant, Paul understood the support that technology could provide to his fledgling business. His priorities were on inventory control, sales management, marketing through a website as well as communications. His employees were distributed around North America and Paul was doing a lot of traveling. So the Internet, along with Blackberries, became a key piece of his business infrastructure. An associate modified an inventory management application to provide data access via the Internet; Salesforce.com became his customer relationship management backbone.
With a geographically disbursed sales team and distributor base and a supplier in Taiwan and European expansion plans, he turned to Skype to help cut his long-distance bills. Introducing Skype was a transitional process but it eventually worked its way into becoming a key communications tool. In fact, when I first talked to him yesterday he had just finished a 30 minute Skype conference call with his Sales VP in Osaka, Japan and a financial manager in Michigan. From the story:
Keeping in touch with his far-flung staff is another top priority. See Worthy is a small company, but it’s spread out: Lantinga is in Toronto; his vice-president of sales lives in Iowa; most of his sales representatives are in the U.S.; his supplier is located in Taiwan. And the company is looking to expand to Europe. That all adds up to huge long-distance phone bills. To help cut costs, Lantinga turned to Skype, an Internet telephony application that allows him to talk to non-Skype users for pennies a minute.
The system’s Internet-based applications sure come in handy when Lantinga needs to talk to his supplier in Taiwan, who speaks only Mandarin. Lantinga Skypes his translator in Lethbridge, Alberta, who then gets the supplier on the line. While the translator is talking to Taiwan, she can send questions and information to Lantinga using Skype’s instant-message function, and get immediate replies. Engaged in a three-way global conversation, they discuss orders, deadlines and prices.
Lantinga also regularly uses Skype to talk to an optical-technology company in France and to potential distributors across Europe as See Worthy prepares to expand overseas.
And talking about Skype’s most prominent endorser, Oprah; Sable Water Optics hit the O List in Oprah Magazine last month. Going forward Paul is looking at ways of building out his communications infrastructure to further reduced his communications bill while responding to the demands of a growing business.
Tags: Skype, See Worthy Inc., Paul Lantinga, Sable Water Optics
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