Catering to pinstripes
Cyberspace competition has PSINet moving away from traditional Internet access for individual computer owners towards a growing range of Internet services to corporate clients. The Herndon, Virginia-based company's offerings still include consumer dial-up access, but the company's focus has shifted to web hosting and high-speed, dedicated-line access for businesses.
Founded in 1989 by data networking gurus William Schrader and Martin Schoffstall, Performance Systems International began providing Internet service to organizations the next year. The company launched PSILink, its first service for individual users, in 1991. The following year, it introduced InterFrame, a continuous, high-speed Internet connection for corporate LANs. PSI teamed up with Boston's Continental Cablevision in 1994 to debut the first commercial Internet access over a cable TV network. The company went public in 1995 and changed its name to PSINet.
Casting a wider net
Major telephone companies have been acquiring Internet service companies lately, and industry observers say PSI may be a prime target. The company is the only, independent, nationwide, business ISP left after Verio was bought by NTT. PSINet's own expansive, fiber-optic network makes it an even more desirable buy. The company now owns more than a million miles of fiber optic cable, and last fall announced a $1.4 billion plan to expand its network.
The company has since shifted its focus away from entry-level consumers, selling a subscriber base of about 100,000 customers to MindSpring Enterprises in Atlanta. PSINet agreed in 1997 to trade 20 percent of its stock to network-lessor IXC Communications in return for the free use of IXC's high-speed digital lines for 20 years.
In 1998, the company acquired a majority stake of Ottawa, Canada-based iSTAR Internet, which PSINet combined with its own Canadian operations to form the largest Internet network north of the border. Soon after, it bought Internet businesses in Switzerland, France, and the United Kingdom. The company's second round of financing in June 1998 funded further purchases in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Western Europe. But PSINet is still willing to forego revenue for expansion ? after a glut of 17 acquisitions in 1998, the company entered the Mexican market by purchasing Internet de Mexico and DataNet, two ISPs.
More recently, PSINet has been snapping up global ISP's as it expands its networks while remaining adamant about staying independent. It has expanded its Canadian market with the acquisition of Toronto's Cadvision, and has also bought ISP's in the Phillipines and Korea, while inking agreements to build its own data centers in Cairo and Hong Kong. PSINet is also focusing extensively on Latin America and it is aligning itself with free ISP's througout Latin America in an effort to grab a piece of the that swelling pie. PSINet now provides services to businesses in 28 countries.
Rolling out the new technology
In July 1998, PSINet announced an alliance with ISP Xedia Corp., allowing it to offer customers increased bandwidth capabilities. The following month, it introduced a service that allows business customers to make long-distance and international phone calls over the Internet. The technology enables users to make telephone calls among company locations, and has the potential to save businesses as much as 50 percent on internal communications. The company is expected to roll out an extranet version, which companies can use to call business partners, customers, and suppliers. In early 1999, PSINet deviated from its small-markets strategy to breach the wireless wilderness, offering a 128-kilobits-per-second service package called InterSky.
Late that year, the company paid $100 million for the naming rights of the Baltimore Ravens' football stadium, raising the company's profile among football-watching corporate executives everywhere.
Helping others help themselves
Perhaps feeling slightly sentimental, remembering the times it was a lowly startup in desperate need of capital, PSINet has set up a venture arm -- PSINet Ventures -- with $1 billion to play with. The new fund targets internet start-ups, but not everyone is getting money. PSINet Ventures negotiates access for equity stake deals where PSINet provides internet access for the fledgling companies in exchange for a piece of the company. This new fund will help PSINet expand its e-commerce horizons. PSINet has also bought Metamor Worldwide, a IT and e-business consluting firm. This move is designed to make PSINet a more one-stop shop for Internet services. "Our customers continually ask for help," says Pete Willis, PSINet president and COO, "Metamor not only brings new customers but solutions."
PSINet looks for applicants with a special level of commitment to their work - people who are excited by new technology and rapid growth. Visit the employment section of PSINet's web site for details on job openings in the US and abroad. Post, fax, or e-mail resumes to the human resources contact indicated above.
Happy hour - Check your e-mail
Employees turn in top ratings for PSINet's friendly culture and smart employees. Loyal insiders say, "PSINet is an active and dynamic company in the hottest market in the world." Most employees are in their 20s and 30s, and say they enjoy a good social atmosphere there's even a happy hour e-mail list.
Corporate culture in the two primary U.S. offices in Herndon, VA and Troy, NY is largely influenced by the departments housed in each place. Most of the technical activities take place in Troy, where employees are primarily male, and there is no dress code. The Virginia HQ houses the corporate stuff sales, marketing, finance etc., so it's a little more formal, especially for those with lots of customer contact. Though there are five men for every one woman in the Troy office, there are several high ranking women in management, and no problems as far as sexual discrimination or harassment.
Gripes about pay
Some employees think they are underpaid for the level of technical work that they do. "Don't come here if you think you are gonna make the big bucks now, advises one source, that comes after working here for a few years." One insider revealed that "the No. 1 reason people leave is the pay is so low that it becomes difficult to stay employed at PSI and pay off school loans." Others suggest that the stock options and opportunities to work abroad help make up for their modest paychecks. Employees also get average benefits, a free dialup account, loaner computers if you need to work from home, and free sodas, juice, gourmet coffee, and bagels once a week.
The pay may not sing, but employees stick around because their jobs are a kick-ass learning experience which will (not can or may) launch you into a very good paying job in the near future. "Case in point, reports one source, one guy worked here for two years, then got a job running the computers in a small insurance agency for a salary in the high $60s. And he didn't even have a college degree." New employees get three weeks of training, and say there's lots of opportunity for advancement. One notes, "I started as a Sales Rep and moved up through Assistant Manager to Regional Sales Manager to my current position, Manager of Sales Technology. PSINet has done well by me." Be prepared to pay your dues, though. Sources say, if you want to succeed, the price is working your butt off. But they're quick to point out that it's no different at any other company. The work at PSINet is guaranteed to be very stressful and challenging but satisfying.
William P. Cripe
AT&T;Bell Atlantic;GTE;MCI WorldCom;MindSpring;NETCOM;Prodigy;Sprint
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