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A hobby turned into business for Host.net CEO

Do you know your tech neighbors? Below is my story today profiling Jeffrey Davis, CEO of Host.net in Boca Raton. He was 17 when he co-founded the IT services company, which is still growing strong.

Jeffrey Davis Hostnet "Hey Cathy, can you come in here?"

When Jeffrey Davis is at work, the woman he beckons is named Cathy. Not mom.

You see, when you're a young CEO at a multimillion-dollar company, it's hard to get respect from clients when you call your mom into a meeting.

But his mom -- Host.net's controller and corporate secretary and treasurer Cathy Davis -- doesn't mind having her 30-year-old son as a boss.

Her son co-founded the Boca Raton IT-infrastructure services firm when he was 17 years old and a junior at American Heritage High School in Plantation. She shares stories about him taking apart VCRs when he was 4 years old, building his first PC when he was 13, and how his bar mitzvah centerpiece was made from computer and telephone parts.

What started as a hobby for Jeffrey in high school turned into company that made $16 million in revenue last year. When he arrived at American Heritage, the school had no Internet access.

"I told the school, `you're missing the boat'," Jeffrey Davis said.

One of his peers had a parent who owned a regional Internet service provider. That parent, Randy Epstein, worked with Davis to get Internet access of 64 kb/s to the school, which in 1996 was a typical connection speed.

Epstein and Davis continued working together and started doing website design and hosting consulting gigs for local businesses.

That year, he also started to teach peers about website design. He was the first student to bring a laptop to his classes.

It was the dawn of the dot-com boom, and he was raking in about $150 to $200 an hour for his consulting. He was pulling in a six-figure salary working 20 hours a week.

So he figured, why go to college?

"I told him you're gonna close doors.'' Cathy Davis said. "In this case, it worked out. I guess it doesn't matter.''

"Didn't that Dell guy drop out of college?'' she asked her son.

She's right. Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell, attended the University of Texas but never finished. Neither did Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard.

In 1999, the company moved from Epstein's garage into the current offices in Boca Raton. It didn't take long for Host.net to expand into several buildings on the property.

Part of that is because the landlord became Host.net's first investor in 2006 -- which made expanding into the corporate office park easy.

Host.net provides companies the space to put their servers, but it also provides a network connection. It offers services called cloud computing and cloud storage -- in which companies let Host.net manage their computer infrastructure virtually, instead of having to buy their own servers.

Virtual services like cloud computing and storage are a hot sell for companies like Host.net, because when a company moves to a virtual system, ``they don't have to touch the physical side of the business,'' Davis said.

So when the time comes for a company to get a new server system, they can either buy a huge machine to store it -- or use virtual storage space with someone like Host.net to get set up in 15 minutes, Davis said.

A year and a half ago, Davis said he was against cloud computing. But prices have come down, and security has improved to the point that he sees the value in it -- not to mention that the demand is growing.

Large IT firms of all types have been coming out with cloud computing-related products and services, including Dell, HP, IBM, Miami-based Terremark Worldwide and Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix. Even Amazon.com offers a cloud computing Web service.

Go here for the rest of the story.

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Alice.K

A business documentary ''The YES Movie '' about today young entrepreneurs, they did turn their hobbies into a profitable business.

www.TheYESmovie.com produce by Louis Lautman

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