VOL. 23 NO. 42, DECEMBER 23-29, 2002

Small Biz Profile
ISP owner steers company through cyber fallout
Entrepreneur eschews fast track to build business one customer at a time

By Anthony Schoettle
IBJ Reporter


Though Ken Blansette has been surfing the business world of the Internet longer than most, he wasn't about to jump on the wave of emotion that roared through the industry in the mid to late 1990s.

When scores of dot.com companies were raising piles of cash through overeager capital markets, Blansette worked methodically building a client base for his business, LifeGrid Internet.

Blansette's is the classic tortoise-and-hare story. While his counterparts spent money faster than it was coming through cyber space, Blansette built a foundation based on personal service and reliability.

"People said, 'You should be raising venture capital, you should be huge," Blansette said. "But that's not what I'm about."

Blansette self-financed LifeGrid, pouring most of what he made initially back into the business to buy more computer infrastructure to accommodate more clients. He also slowly added reliable, long-term employees.

Blansette, 36, is a graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. It was there that his interest in computers intensified.

"My brother had a computer well before computers were in the mainstream," Blansette said. "We were like true-blue computer nerds."

After selling computer and telephony services for Ameritech for several years, Blansette set out on his own. He initially resold Internet hookup services, later adding infrastructure to allow his clients improved Web access.

Blansette quickly realized with the Web explosion there were far more questions than answers. As long as he supplied answers, his client list grew. He later helped clients with computer systems integration with the bulk of his business coming from corporations.

As the Internet grew as a business tool, Blansette began designing and running increasingly sophisticated corporate Web sites. He quickly grasped that Web sites must be profitable ventures for corporate clients.

Then, Blansette discovered a service that helped distinguish his firm. He discovered ways to get his clients' Web sites positioned better on most major search engines than many of their competitors.

"Many businesses today don't realize there's a method for getting your Web site placed prominently in a variety of search engines," Blansette said. "They have no idea, so they don't utilize their Web site to the fullest."

Blansette also studied which search engines best served which industries, and he developed strategies for getting his clients in the best positions in the best search engines for their businesses.

Blansette said sometimes with the big, popular search engines, it takes money to get placed prominently. "Not every company can afford to do that. You have to map out a plan and follow a targeted strategy."

Frank Crowe, co-owner of Artistic Awards & Laser Specialists, a local trophy maker, began working with LifeGrid in 1998. Crowe said Blansette has helped his company continue growing despite the recent rocky economy.

"They've given us good direction on how to advertise our site and increase our traffic," Crowe said. "Because of that, our business has grown faster than a normal business in our industry."

Ed Watson, president and CEO of Midwest Model Makers Inc., a local maker of architectural and related models, said LifeGrid has helped his firm gain significantly more business outside Indiana.

"LifeGrid had the expertise to get us where we wanted to go, and their attention to detail and support was great," Watson said.

LifeGrid's revenue grew 40 percent in 2001 and 80 percent this year. Blansette, whose company now manages about 400 Web domains, expects to double revenue in 2003.