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Old 02-27-2004, 12:14 PM   #1
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(02-27-2004) Singlestep scores with new market for its concert... - Seattle.PI.com *

Singlestep scores with new market for its concert software: engineers

Friday, February 27, 2004.


Singlestep Technologies, whose networking software was used to manage audio equipment at U2 and Grateful Dead concerts, is finding a new audience for its technology.

The Seattle company, originally known as Lone Wolf and backed by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, exited the music business 10 years ago. But the company's Unity software is getting an encore performance with network engineers who use it to manage glitches that arise in computer networking equipment.

Because of recent customer wins and a partnership with IBM, Singlestep also is attracting interest from investors. Today, the privately held company plans to announce $5.3 million in funding and a new chief operating officer. A dozen customers have bought the software, including Alaska Airlines, Sybase, Nintendo and the Seattle Mariners.

Singlestep Chief Executive Chris Noble said he hopes to raise an additional $2.7 million by the end of April. The money will be used to increase the company's sales force, which has tripled to 15 employees in recent months. Joseph O'Konek, former president of Far EasTone Telecommunications, a joint venture of AT&T Wireless and Far Eastern Group, will oversee the sales force as chief operating officer.

Singlestep, which employs 48 people, expects revenues of $6 million this year. Profitability is slated for this year, Noble said.

It has taken some time for Singlestep to re-emerge. The company, which won the reinvention award at last year's WSA Industry Achievement Awards, nearly closed in 1997 after Allen and other venture backers quit financing it.

The founders kept the idea alive until December 2000 when Noble, a former executive at Network Commerce, joined the company as chief executive. At first, Noble focused the company on selling software tools. But the strategy didn't work.

"What we learned in the market is that we had to build an application, Unity, on top of that existing platform in order to win business," Noble said.

Singlestep targets a category known as network-management automation software, a sector that research firm IDC expects to grow to $10.1 billion in the next two years. While the company's focus has changed, Noble said the underlying technology can be traced to the music industry. In fact, he cites The Grateful Dead in his pitch to investors.

"The original technology let the Dead set up whether they were in a pub one night, a 60,000-seat auditorium the next night or a field three nights later," Noble said. "That is the flexibility of the technology. And what we have done is apply that same flexibility to network management where business needs shift and change, and you need to respond to problems quickly."

Competitors in the network-management sector include San Francisco-based Micromuse Inc., a publicly traded company that reported revenues of $125 million last year, and Portsmouth, N.H.-based Aprisma Management Technologies, which boasts more than 1,000 corporate customers.

Although Singlestep is much smaller, Noble said the company is achieving traction with customers that want to implement a network management system quickly.

"We are the easy way to get started in what is going to be a five- to 10- year initiative," he said. "We allow them to start with the network as a first step and build a base and then move on to that strategic initiative later on."

Singlestep raised the $5.3 million from individuals and existing investor Agave Capital, a small Austin, Texas, venture capital firm led by former NetSpeed executives. The company received two term sheets from venture capital firms last fall, though Noble said he chose to stick with existing angel investors.

"Our original investors stepped up," he said. "And I think they will continue to step up through the rest of this round."

P-I reporter John Cook can be reached at 206-448-8075 or johncook@seattlepi.com

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