How flooded servers led to the birth of scrappy Wilmington ISP WhyFly - Technical.ly Delaware

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Mar. 17, 2017 12:18 pm

How flooded servers led to the birth of scrappy Wilmington ISP WhyFly

Plus more highlights from WhyFly's presentation at Delaware Tech Meetup.

WhyFly cofounder Mark Thompson speaks at coIN Loft.

(Photo by Joey Davidson)

WhyFly is an up-and-coming internet service provider that was founded in 2016 in Wilmington by Mike Palita and Mark Thompson. It’s a small company, though they claim to offer faster and cheaper internet service than the big guys. We named it No. 3 on our list of the most exciting startups in Delaware.

After his media analytics company’s 160 servers were literally flooded by 480,000 gallons of water thanks to improperly installed AC units above his office, Thompson moved to Wilmington. The one thing he couldn’t get to his office? Bandwidth.

“There was tons of capacity,” Thompson told the small crowd at this week’s tech meetup at the coIN Loft, “but only one or two people in town could get us what we needed.”

Thompson did some research. Through talking with folks around town, he learned that the big internet companies see costs drop by more than 30 percent each year for providing internet service. Those tier one providers, per Thompson, are seeing costs to distribute service fall to inexpensive levels. “Very inexpensive,” he said. “Sometimes even free. That cost has never come back to businesses or residents.”

“I had this idea,” he explained. “If I can get this really big internet to my business when I need it, maybe other businesses can jump on.” That sort of took off, so they decided to start WhyFly and make a business out of it.

WhyFly offers internet service in Wilmington. For businesses, they have a 100 Mbps tier at $75 per month, a 250 Mbps tier at $250 per month and they potentially offer more at undisclosed rates. For residents, you can get wireless access at 100 Mbps for $29.95 per month (if it’s available), a wired line at 100 Mbps for $54.95 per month after a $99.00 setup fee. Those speeds apply to upload and download, by the way. I live in Wilmington, and I get 25 Mbps up and down after paying $60 for a wired connection with Verizon.

Yes, they’re cheaper with higher speeds.

We spoke with WhyFly Vice President of Operations Kevin Kriss over email about how business is going. “We are rocking!” he told us. “Our customer base is rapidly growing, and we are working on strategic plans for expansion to surrounding areas based on increasing demand.”

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Kriss told us that they’ve managed to attract investment capital and are in the process of “working on terms.” We’ll keep you posted.

We asked them what they thought about the possible eventuality of municipalities like Wilmington offering internet service as a utility. “We would love it! If Wilmington decided to look at that, WhyFly would be positioned to provide the capabilities and infrastructure necessary to succeed (it is our goal anyway).”

If you’ve worked in the consumer-facing internet business, you know this: providing support is hard. We asked Thompson how WhyFly offers customer support in its current form with a team of five or six employees. The answer? Their mobile phones ring. “Mostly Mike’s,” Thompson joked about his cofounder.

But then he was candid: “It’s tough. You’re starting up, you’re building your team. It’s really hard to make a commitment to an employee on a fulltime basis if you really don’t know where the revenue’s coming from. You’re plugging the numbers.”

“We’ve had a great core team that’s been working to build this thing out, and it’s been fundamental. Right now, we’re looking to move our support to 24/7. We’re going to raise a little bit more outside capital this year, which will help us grow.”

At the prices WhyFly’s offering, if it can meet demand and offer strong support, it could blow up. Thompson told the group that it’s looking to push into more markets beyond Wilmington, too. They’ll need even more support then.

Good thing those AC units were put in incorrectly.

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Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson is a consumer tech, gaming and science reporter. He's worked in news for nearly 10 years, and now he's looking to make an impact at home in Delaware.

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