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Custom approach lures Compaq to Tempe firm

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

PHOENIX – The black T-shirts and game room are gone, replaced by sport coats and a lonely looking pingpong table. NeoPlanet Inc., after a hot and heady dot-com youth, is growing up.

The Tempe company, known for its movie-related Internet browsers, has announced a deal with Compaq Computer Corp., the first firm to use NeoPlanet’s new suite of business software, Viassary.

The software is part of Compaq Advisor, an application Compaq began including recently in its popular Presario line of desktop and notebook computers. Compaq Advisor will offer service, support and marketing to Presario buyers who opt into the program.

NeoPlanet’s creativity and experience in making computer interfaces friendly and enjoyable for consumers were among the reasons Compaq chose to work with the Tempe company, said Kevin Kyle, Compaq’s director of marketing for access solutions.

“The magic here isn’t the real technology, the writing code. It’s how you get people to respond,” he said.

NeoPlanet certainly got people to respond with its original product.

The company began by developing enhanced browsers, which let computer users customize their screens to show off their favorite movies and sports teams. The browsers also gave those businesses a way to push their brand names, advertisements and website links out to loyal fans.

NeoPlanet eventually developed more than 100 browsers and deals with such big entertainment houses as Universal Pictures, which used the browsers to promote such movies as “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” In less than two years, 8 million computer users had installed NeoPlanet browsers and downloaded 15 million overlying “skins.”

But NeoPlanet, as many other dot-coms, learned last fall that one product wasn’t enough and online advertising alone wouldn’t pay the bills. Unlike others, NeoPlanet says it started working on new products and a business model based on services and licenses.

“We weren’t one of the companies that waited until the last minute,” said Mitchell Lawrie, vice president of business development and sales. “We had an approach to leverage.”

It was a natural for NeoPlanet to focus its technology on helping companies build their relationships with customers who use the Internet, Chief Executive Officer Warren Adelman said.

That puts its new software in the category of customer relationship management, or CRM, a hot tech area as companies realize that satisfying current customers is cheaper and more profitable than constantly hunting for new ones.

Doing that electronically can be tricky.

“One challenge for marketers is not to overuse it,” said Robert Danoff, NeoPlanet’s senior vice president of marketing. “It’s more important to get the right information to the right person.”

That’s where NeoPlanet’s custom approach came in.

From its original product, NeoPlanet kept the software that customizes screens and functions. It kept the rules-based engine, which tells the software what information to deliver to which customers. It expanded the ability to “politely” deliver information in the background without disrupting users.

The Compaq Advisor is a major step toward interacting more regularly with customers, Kyle said. It will send out messages offering users more information on problems such as rapidly filling hard drives or products they might need. However, Advisor will allow messages to go only to users who request them and only if the messages relate to their problems or interests.

In the future, Compaq could take the Advisor into international sales of Presarios, into its higher-end computers and possibly into noncomputer products, he said.

Adelman says he’s focusing NeoPlanet on delivering the best product, closing more deals and building a profitable company. He declines to disclose revenues for the privately held, venture-capital-backed company. Profitability, he says, will come “as soon as possible.”

PHOTO CAPTION: The Associated Press

Some of the people behind NeoPlanet Inc.’s success: from left, Carl Martineau, vice president; Robert Danoff, senior vice president; and Mitchell Lawrie, vice president.

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