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November 05, 2007 (5:00:00 PM)
By: Lisa Hoover

Farzin Arsanjani, president of HyperOffice, is 2,600 miles away from where the wildfires blazed their way through southern California, but that hasn’t stopped him from lending a hand to the businesses caught in the path of the flames. Arsanjani announced last week that he will provide HyperOffice’s Web-based suite of collaborative business tools free for 90 days to any company displaced by the recent spate of wildfires.

HyperOffice’s toolkit includes calendars, document and task managers, forums, email, and file storage. Since the tools make it possible for employees to work together outside of the typical office environment, Arsanjani says HyperOffice is perfect for keeping a business running “in the face of difficult circumstances.”

Arsanjani says his years of experience in and around the world of small business was the motivating factor behind his offer. “I have great appreciation for SMB [small and medium-sized business] owners and executives who passionately believe in what they do and have the courage to take on the world with limited resources. “SMBs are in a constant state of survival and have no time or resources to plan for disasters and to build contingencies into their business model. While these disasters may be a serious inconvenience for large companies, they are fatal disasters for SMBs. Thanks to our technology and the internet, we are in a position to deliver vital services to these [small businesses] and help them get back on their feet.

Arsanjani extended the same offer to people affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, although he says that was a very different type of disaster. “It took out infrastructure — communications, Internet, streets, entire suburbs and downtowns — that are still not rebuilt and that have still not recovered. HyperOffice at the time was a much smaller company, [but] the few customers that we ended up helping were enough to prove we did the right thing, and we’re happy with that result.”

All businesses need to get started is an computer or handheld device with an Internet connection and any standard browser, such as Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer. HyperOffice also has a special login page optimized for dial-up users. Implementation takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the level of customization required, and training tools are available on the site for anyone who is unfamiliar with online office suites.

If businesses want to stop using HyperOffice after 90 days, Arsanjani says moving documents and files offline is a snap. “We provide a number of tools for customers to move their information and documents offline to store on local drives,” he says. “Depending on the system they had in place before, they should be able to move back.” If businesses want to continue using HyperOffice, prices range from $6 to $9 a month per user, based on the number of user accounts a company needs.

What if a business needs more than 90 days to get back on their feet, or simply can’t decide whether or not to stay with HyperOffice? “They can continue using our service on a month-to-month basis at an affordable rate,” Arsanjani says, “or they can cancel anytime and move on. No long-term commitments are required. This is one of the main benefits of SaaS [Software as a Service]. Unlike the ‘pay and pray’ model offered by the premise-based software vendors, we earn our customers’ business every day.”

Scott Alevy, vice president of public policy and communications for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, says businesses affected by wildfires appreciate the generosity of offers like Arsanjani’s. He notes that, especially in the dot-com environment of southern California, people often see their technology, phone numbers, and Web presence as an extension of their identity. When those things are unavailable or disrupted, “it’s very personal,” and anything that helps a person maintain the normalcy they’re used to is important.

Alvey says that anywhere from 300 to 1,000 businesses were affected by the recent fires, but pinning down an exact number is difficult since many businesses are home-based. He points out that in addition to the number of structures that were damaged, “thousands of businesses were also affected by employees that couldn’t come to work.”

Many service providers, such as the phone, cable, and electric companies, are offering free service to affected customers, but Alvey says HyperOffice is the first company he knows of that has stepped forward with a way to help businesses stay on track via the Internet. “It’s the sort of things that helps make people whole,” he says. “It’s very helpful.”

Arsanjani says though it’s too early to tell how many businesses will take him up on his offer, he’ll accommodate as many as necessary. He estimates it will cost HyperOffice approximately $550 per company, but “it doesn’t matter. It’s the right thing to do.”


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