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Building on a Cloud

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  • | 7:03 a.m. April 1, 2011
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Tampa has seen its share of technology firms come and go over the years, and the city somehow sustained minimal damage from the dot-com bust at the turn of the century. But tech is resurging with consumers becoming more accustomed to buying goods online, especially with the addition of new tablet computers, and one local player from the last wave is now positioned at the forefront.

Tim Roberts, chairman and CEO of tech upstart Savtira Corp., got the local business community's attention late last year when it announced plans to hire 65 employees at its new office in Ybor City. That process is still under way, along with a plan to seek millions from investors to help propel what he considers the next big thing in cloud computing.

The “cloud” refers to an Internet server that allows licensed users to access software and other information through most wireless computers and smartphones. Businesses can rent storage space from providers such as Savtira rather than having to invest in their own hardware and servers.

In a nutshell, Savtira offers what it terms software-as-a-service solutions to businesses that want to put their products in our hands and homes. Its business model covers both digital and physical goods, using e-commerce to sell everything from entertainment programs to household appliances.

While various national merchants already offer this capability, Roberts points out that they use separate platforms to handle online downloads and online merchandise sales. So companies who sell digital products, such as mp3 music files, and physical merchandise have to use two checkout systems. Why not be able to put everything in a single virtual shopping cart, buying a download and a dryer in the same transaction?

“It sounds easier said than done,” admits Roberts, who unlocked the doors to Savtira in December after eight years of planning. “We went through the pain of starting early and are now reaping the benefits.”

Savtira plans to position itself as a “disruptive” player in the marketplace, offering a value proposition that sets itself apart from traditional delivery methods. Merchants will be able to offer computer programs, streaming movies, music downloads and anything else that doesn't require packaging by way of Savtira's cloud, which makes it easier for companies to sell more digital products. For example, it helps businesses sell movie downloads instead of DVDs, which it has to purchase, store and ship.

“There's no brick and mortar required. It's virtually unlimited square footage,” Roberts says. Think of it as combining the entire iTunes library with the complete inventory of Best Buy and Walmart, all in one online place, he says.

In turn, business partners pay Savtira an a-la-carte fee for cloud access while being able to stamp their brand on custom websites. The company anticipates topping $1 billion in annual sales by 2013, while also driving net revenue into the low nine-figure range.

Besides forming strategic partnerships and gathering capital from individual and institutional investors, Roberts notes that Savtira now has access to greater tech capabilities through providers such as Dell, IBM and Juniper that weren't available during the dot-com boom. “It's just a different evolution now,” he says.

Roberts has done this sort of futuristic thing before. Over the last two decades, he established and sold his interests in two previous successful tech startups, Savvis Communications and Intira Corp., then spliced those company's names to form his new brand.

The 40-year-old entrepreneur can also claim a pretty solid pedigree. His father, William “Monty” Roberts, was an innovative marketing executive for Ford Motor Co. and Anheuser-Busch.

The entire Savtira executive team draws on 25 years of experience in various tech-related fields. The company currently has 27 employees at its 8,000-square-foot headquarters at the corner of Palm and 22nd avenues, and it is in the process of hiring those previously announced workers with plans for between 200 and 300 personnel over the next two years in both development and marketing/merchandising positions.

“It's anybody's guess as to how many it will be,” Roberts says. He adds that the company has enough space to meet its growth needs and can expand into a nearby building now occupied by tech-transfer firm Innovaro.

Tom Keating, president and CEO of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, says firms such as Savtira are helping build a new tech base that the historic district missed out on before. “They're on the leading edge of something substantial,” he says.

Roberts, who has tinkered with computers since his early teens, says he feels everything he has done to this point has led to Savtira.

“This is like the culmination of my life,” he says. “This company is founded on the ultimate consumer experience.”


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