Trackvia is latest entrant in Database 2.0 market

Humble goal: helping "ordinary people keeping track of stuff"
  • (Computerworld)
  • — 21 August, 2007 08:21

It's the rare Web 2.0 start-up that has the guts to brag that it's resisting a jump onto the Facebook application bandwagon.

But that's what Matt McAdams, founder and chief technology officer of online database firm Trackvia proudly says he told his venture-capital investors last week.

"Not being in the Valley helps us be more intellectually humble and forces us to talk to our customers," McAdams said via phone last week from his office in Colorado, referring to Silicon Valley.

And what do those customers -- what McAdams likes to call "ordinary people keeping track of stuff" -- want? Features such as easy-to-set-up feeding of data from Web forms into Trackvia, McAdams said, as well as permission and change control, "wicked fast" data search and deduplication capabilities, Google mapping of data and easy export from Trackvia's MySQL-based back-end to customers' Excel spreadsheets.

The feature that McAdams may be proudest of is Trackvia's ability to easily mail merge and print labels. That won't win any points with the "TechCrunch crowd," he notes, but it is proving popular with the many small businesses keeping their customer lists in Trackvia.

They do not include an Asynchronous JavaScript and XML Web interface, which McAdams says would slow down Trackvia, nor the ability to handle "concurrent" changes to data records, something he said only database geeks really care about.

"Eighty percent of our users come from Excel, and 20% come from writing on whiteboards," he said.

Trackvia already has about 1,000 paying subscribers even though it is making its official debut today. It is the 14th entrant in the growing Database 2.0 market.

Bettering a dot-com past

Not being a first mover doesn't worry McAdams, who is more concerned in righting past sins. McAdams, who obtained his Ph.D. in physics from California Institute of Technology to run two start-ups during and after the dot-com boom, says that while rushing past products to market has pleased investors, for customers they "were never better than mediocre."

"We don't want to do it that way again," he said. "I'll be happy signing up just one new customer a day."

McAdams said he senses a bit of his former dot-com cockiness in some of Trackvia's competitors, whose products, he claimed, look like they "were built by some college kid in his dorm."

Dismissing public data repositories such as Google Base and FreeBase, McAdams said that Trackvia's main competition includes DabbleDB, Intuit's QuickBase and WebOffice from Cisco Systems' WebEx Communications subsidiary.

McAdams had something to say about each one, though. The oldest service, QuickBase, is "very slow" and has had "high-profile performance problems," he said. "We are wicked fast, and will always be."

WebOffice is "a good little database, which, because it is part of a broader suite, is not as feature-rich" as Trackvia, McAdams said.

McAdams acknowledged that he envies some of Vancouver, British Columbia-based DabbleDB's "cool technology." But DabbleDB's flaw, he argued, is that it is "built by geeks for geeks, while Trackvia is built by businessmen for businessmen."

Superior service cited

Comments from Trackvia beta users who have signed on since last year appear to back up some of McAdams' bold claims.

"Working with Trackvia has been great," said Jon Baldwin, president of Circulation Service America. The Colorado-based company delivers free newspapers to locations in 150 cities in North America. It formerly managed its delivery records using a single Excel spreadsheet, into which tables from Excel spreadsheets created by Circulation Service's local managers would be cut and pasted.

Using Trackvia has allowed Circulation Service to bypass the drudgery, Baldwin said. Moreover, Trackvia allows the company to display its delivery records database as a Google Map mashup so that its clients can easily check how deliveries are progressing at each location.

Baldwin said he also likes Trackvia's subscription model, which starts at US$9.95 per user per month for basic service. It saves him money and avoids an investment in soon-to-be-outdated technology, he added.

Another firm, Boca Raton, Fla.-based lender Allied Mortgage Group, is finding Trackvia to be much faster and cheaper than its old system, which involved a network database with Microsoft Access as the front end, according to Matthew Jafarian, Allied's IT administrator.

"We reached a point where our mortgage planners had to wait 60 seconds to search our database of over a million records," he said.

Besides its "user-friendly" interface, Trackvia has taken a "huge burden off our network" and kept data safe during the frequent power outages during hurricane season, Jafarian said.

Friends of the Florida Panther uses Trackvia to manage its 700-member database, according to John Gibson, one of the nonprofit organization's volunteers.

"We just needed a database that is easy to use, and the price was right," he said. Besides "great security control" and reporting features, Trackvia has delivered "support as if we are their most important account," Gibson said.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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