Houston Chronicle: When the U.S. State Department holds online training sessions for its employees at dozens of embassies and offices around the world, it uses a browser-based Web conferencing system that was developed in Houston.
When the U.S. State Department holds online training sessions for its employees at dozens of embassies and offices around the world, it uses a browser-based Web conferencing system that was developed in Houston.
The business behind the product – called omNovia – was originally launched as an online information security firm in 2004.
That all changed, according to founder Shawn Shadfar, when a client asked for a different product.
“This client had online classes that lasted eight to 10 hours at a time, and it was very expensive and inconvenient to expect people to get their audio from a telephone,” Shadfar said. “That was how it was done back then, but we integrated audio into the computer.”
Another feature this client requested was the ability to use different languages and be user-friendly, since many of its students were older. That led to the development of omNovia, a browser-based, user-friendly system that works with many languages.
“From Day 1, we set out to build something that was easy to use and very intuitive, and offered audio through the system,” Shadfar said. “Not a replacement, but more like the next generation of Web conferencing … something like ‘Webinar 2.0.’ We wanted to make something that was better than what was already out there.”
Shadfar continued, “A lot of software companies build features because they think they’re cool – but we did it the other way around. Anything we’ve added over the years has been driven by requests from our customers.”
Today, omNovia Technologies has 500 clients worldwide and gross revenue of $3 million to $8 million a year. A venture capital firm in California is considering infusing as much as $10 million into the company – money that will be used for marketing, Shadfar said.
The product is offered for a monthly subscription fee. The cheapest is $49 a month, while one with added features can run thousands of dollars more. OmNovia’s largest client spends $30,000 a month with them, Shadfar said.
“We compete with giants like Cisco and Adobe, and we beat them every time we get a chance to demonstrate what we offer,” Shadfar said.
As an example, he pointed to the State Department, which had been using a brand-name system for its Web conferencing.
“When we started with omNovia, we had a particular need – the need for right-to-left text justification to use with our Arab audiences in the Middle East,” said Sandra Bruckner, director of the department’s digital diplomacy studio team. “So many of our audiences like to participate in their native language, and not all of the systems let you do that. I also like the very clean interface of this product.”
Like many entrepreneurs, omNovia’s Shadfar failed at his first venture, a software company he started in 2000 that managed customer relationships for clients. He said he learned to not spend too much time developing a perfect business plan and too little time developing the core business from that venture.
“In retrospect, I learned quite a bit from the experience,” Shadfar said. “I learned not to spend too much time on the paper, and spend more time on the product.”
Sandra Bretting is a Houston freelance writer. email@example.com