Repeat Internet entrepreneur launches Bandwidth Pool

By Sarah Binder

CEDAR RAPIDS—Sitting in an entrepreneurial conference in 2011, Ben Anderson scrawled “Bandwidth Pool?” on a piece of paper. In February this year, the company with that name officially launched. Bandwidth Pool is designed to help businesses find the best deal on Internet service.

It’s not Mr. Anderson’s first time launching an Internet business. While a student at the University of Iowa, he launched X-Wires in 2002. In those early days of wireless Internet service, X-Wires brought wireless to Iowa City, specializing in schools, apartments and other environments with lots of users. In its early stages, the company grew thanks to grants from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and in 2010, it was acquired by Campus Televideo, where Mr. Anderson still works as director of data services.

However, in spite of his years of experience working with Internet service providers (ISPs), Mr. Anderson still made a bad decision when he had to choose a provider in Texas. He was unfamiliar with the companies there, and the resulting poor service hurt the company.

Bandwidth Pool is designed to help businesses that have large Internet plans (spending $500 or more per month on Internet service) find the best deal on a reliable provider, whether the person in charge of selecting the service is an IT pro or not.

“We wanted it to be logical and clean, so they could feel comfortable making that decision,” Mr. Anderson said.

It works with large company plans because they use dedicated Internet access. While Internet plans for small businesses or homes may advertise speeds “up to” a certain amount, with a dedicated line, it is a guarantee of the promised speed. There are many providers across the country that can provide this kind of service to a given address, but are difficult to find because they do not advertise nationally.

Within Bandwidth Pool, the user can specify their address, how much bandwidth they need, how reliable they need their service to be and when they need to make a decision by. The participating ISPs can then bid for the user’s business in a reverse-auction style process where the price gets lower as more bids come in.

Customer reviews will also be an important part of the site, so users can make the decision based on both price and reputation.

To access the service, the user must pay a fee. Eventually the fee will be $99, but during the beta test period, it is $25.

The fee is refunded if the user purchases Internet service through Bandwidth Pool, or if they do not get at least three bids, find a better price elsewhere or the price increases after the bidding process ends.

“We consider it a deposit,” Mr. Anderson said. “Our goal is to refund every deposit we get.”

The deposit is designed to make sure Bandwidth Pool users are serious about finding a new ISP. Window shopping is a huge problem in the industry, Mr. Anderson said, and the ISPs are more motivated to provide a good bid if they know the potential customer is serious.

“That’s a huge opportunity of Ben’s proposition,” said Stacey Stewart, a partner at Strategic Account Services Group. Mr. Stewart and SASG, a telecom consultancy firm, are representing eight different ISPs and placing bids for them in Bandwidth Pool.

“He charges a small fee to the client to get a quote,” Mr. Stewart said. “Those are good prospects [for the ISP], they’re looking to buy, and it’s just a question of who they’re going to buy from.”

The large, dedicated service plans can be quite complicated, Mr. Stewart said, meaning even coming up with a quote can be a time-consuming process for the ISP. Having potential customers who are ready to buy gives them more reason to come up with a competitive bid.

Bandwidth Pool launched Feb. 27 and has 19 ISPs participating. There are about 250 providers nationwide that would be a good fit for the site, Mr. Anderson estimated.

The startup has been partially bootstrapped by Mr. Anderson and partially angel-invested, with an investor Mr. Anderson knew from his previous business. Two part-time sales staff have been working with Mr. Anderson to market the company.

The startup community in the Corridor, including Vault Coworking and Collaboration Space in downtown Cedar Rapids, where Mr. Anderson works, has helped, he said.

“I think in Cedar Rapids, the development that’s happening downtown makes it exciting to want to build a business here,” he said. “If there was ever a time to be an entrepreneur in this area, this is it.”

How much bandwidth do you need?

The amount of bandwidth a business needs depends on the type of usage (light uses like email or web browsing, or heavier uses like video streaming) the level of reliability needed and the number of users in the system. For more information, visit www.bandwidthpool.com, which provides a bandwidth calculator.

1 Million Cups

Bandwidth Pool became the first company to pitch at 1 Million Cups (1MC) Cedar Rapids on March 13. The idea behind 1MC is to spread entrepreneurship, one cup of coffee at a time.

Each week, the 1MC program offers one local startup an opportunity to present their company to an audience of mentors, advisors, and fellow entrepreneurs. Founders will present a 6-minute pitch of their company and then have 20 minutes of question-and-answer time with the audience.

“The goal is to create an educational program that holds the promise to empower, grow and activate our community of entrepreneurs,” wrote Kristopher Fassler, operations director of Vault.

1MC will continue every Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Vault, in the fifth floor of the Guaranty Bank building, at 222 Third St. SE.