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Interview Published December 8, 2000

Thatcher Wine, Cleartop

My interview today is with Thatcher Wine, Founder and CEO of Santa Monica-based Cleartop ( Cleartop provides an online customer support solution for small and medium size businesses. I asked him some questions on Cleartop's business model, and where he sees the company going in the next few months.

BK: What's Cleartop all about, and how is it different from all of the other online customer support companies out there?

TW: Cleartop is a hosted application for managing customer service communications. Our differentiation is based on three factors -ease-of-use, affordability, and our focus on serving the small to mid-sized business market. The application is priced under $100 per month and is designed so that non-technical resources can set it up in less than an hour and use it without any expensive training or consultants.

BK: Who are your investors, and what was your last round?

TW: Our investors include two venture firms- Sterling Payot Capital ( and 2M Technology Ventures ( We also have a great group of angel investors including Esther Dyson. We have raised $2.6 million to date and our last financing was completed in September.

BK: How did you decide to start Cleartop, and how did you end up in this business?

TW: Cleartop grew out of my own personal frustration trying to communicate with companies by e-mail. A couple years ago I tried an experiment where I gave up the phone in favor of writing my customer service questions to companies via e-mail instead. I found that very few companies responded with the right answer or within any reasonable amount of time. I concluded that the lack of easy-to-use support tools was part of the reason for the poor response, so I started Cleartop to put the delivery of great customer service within reach of every business.

BK: Has your company been affected by the Internet investment crash, and how so?

TW: Every company in the market for financing today is finding it more difficult to raise money than a year ago; however, from the perspective of business fundamentals, we are exactly in the right place at the right time. The majority of companies in our target market are offline businesses that are looking for an e-mail management solution, and they are not affected by the crash. Further, the fact that we're low-priced and easy to use has proven very compelling to customers (and their investors!) at a time when resources are tight.

BK: Where are you in your product cycle--have you launched your service yet?

TW: Last month, we released the commercial version of Cleartop, and we already have several dozen customers. Businesses interested in using Cleartop to manage their customer service can visit to sign up. The process takes less than an hour and can be executed by someone without any technical expertise. We are also currently implementing several partnerships with complementary small business providers such as NetLedger, GotMarketing and Rackspace that will expand our distribution significantly.

BK: What is the profile of your typical customer?

TW: Cleartop customers are small to mid-sized businesses that are looking for an affordable, easy-to-use online customer service solution. Our typical customer receives (or will receive) between 5-500 customer e-mails and phone calls per day and has less than 500 employees. A couple of our early adopters include and - businesses that depend on e-mail for customer communications and want to deliver great customer service without the expense and complexity of many CRM packages on the market.

BK: Finally, what is the biggest challenge your company faces in the next few months?

TW: When I started the company, my vision for Cleartop was to democratize the CRM market. By that I meant taking a product that was previously only accessible and affordable to big companies with big budgets and making it really easy-to-use and affordable for every business, no matter how small or large. The big challenge ahead of us is fulfilling this vision of getting our product into the hands of thousands of businesses and really making a difference on a mass-market scale amid all the noise and pessimism surrounding Internet-based companies today.

BK: Thanks!

Copyright (c) 2001 by Benjamin F. Kuo. All rights reserved.
May not be reprinted without permission.