Homegrown company aims to fill Web hosting void

Hey, if Bill Gates can do it, why not Jesse Rasch? Drop out of a prestigious university, start up a company, promote a bit of technology and ride it to the moon.

Rasch’s company, inquest Technologies, may not quite be the next Microsoft, but it is off to a good start, complete with traditional high-tech origins in a cramped, rented space, a-behind-the-scenes co-founder and millions in the bank.

Recently, inquest sold a 51 per cent interest in the company to the American telecommunications firm SBC Communications Inc. for US$115 million.

The company had humble beginnings in a Montreal apartment where Rasch was studying at McGill University. He started out studying science, transferred to business, studied some finance and computer science and finally left school altogether. University wasn’t for Rasch.

“I learned very quickly that I loved technology and that I had a great understanding of technology, but I wasn’t a creator of technology,” 24-year-old Rasch said during a recent interview in InQuent’s new office in Toronto. “Because I always understood technology very well, I could envision where technology was going and what we would need to do…to service future markets.”

Fortunately Rasch had an ace up his sleeve. “[I] had a lot of friends who were the creators of technology, so there was a real nice pairing there.”

In the mid 1990s he and his friends started up a company called WebHosting.com, to do early Web site development for the likes of Future Electronics and the Bank of Montreal. “I really provided the strategy side of the equation and the co-founder of this business, Michael Apted…would be the architect of our hosting platform,” Rasch said. inquest is WebHosting.com’s parent company.

A bunch or young guns getting the ear of big corporations was no easy task. “The key for any entrepreneur is persistence, and when you get shut down you just find another route…to get in there and try to get some mindshare with the decision makers,” Rasch said, intoning what is obvious to all but done by few.

Besides persistence, the other key was research. Rasch said that in the case of a Future Electronics account, they were competing against some very established development firms. Rasch and his cohorts did a thorough market analysis and found out exactly what Future Electronics’ competition was doing on-line.

“And [the client] said, ‘You guys have done a lot of work here today, a hell of a lot more than your competitors did, you’ve earned this contract,'” Rasch said with a note of joy.