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Entrepreneur takes a steady job at Inflow

Tony Medrano has one of those resumes that screams "over-achiever."

He's got an academic background that would make any high school guidance counselor weep with joy: bachelor's degree from Harvard, master's degree from Columbia, and then business and law degrees from Stanford.

Medrano was an officer in the Navy, co-founded a Silicon Valley software infrastructure company, and then a San Diego management consulting business.

He's been recognized for his abilities as an entrepreneur. He co-teaches a class on entrepreneurship and venture capital at Stanford, as was selected as a finalist for Hispanic Business Magazine's 2003 Entrepreneur of the Year.

But when Medrano went looking for some career stability, it was a 12-person operation in Sorrento Mesa that drew him into the management fold. Last month he signed on as general manager of Inflow Inc.'s San Diego operation, replacing outgoing GM Hadi Aboukhater.

The Denver-based company specializes in Web application hosting and outsourced IT services for customers including San Diego's Kintera Inc. (Nasdaq: KNTA) and ProfitLine Inc.

"I like being an entrepreneur, but I also like it when things are really solid," Medrano said in a recent interview at his office, still absent any decor except a dry erase board. "The management team, both locally and out in Denver, are superb. I like well-managed companies with a lot of processes that make things easier as opposed to bureaucracies that make them hard, or sometimes startups that fumble around quite a bit. This is an extremely well-organized company."

As a private company, Inflow keeps most of its financial information and some of its customer wins under wraps. Medrano does proffer that Inflow has $20 million in cash, and positive earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBIDTA).

Its technology is geared toward small and midsize businesses that don't necessarily have or want the resources to maintain their own networks and IT staff. Medrano says he was attracted to the practicality of Inflow's work, especially after witnessing the excesses of the tech boom in Silicon Valley.

"It's not one of those widget technologies, hoping that somebody will like it someday," Medrano said. "They've essentially made it through the worst times. They've built a great company that is EBITDA positive, so there's very little worry about financial stability. So I can come in at this time and really help grow the San Diego and the California presence. A lot of my experience in Silicon Valley, too, will translate broadly across California."

Inflow is by no means alone in the Web hosting and IT services space. Big-name competitors include International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Electronic Data Systems Corp. (NYSE: EDS) and AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T).

And then there are the "duct tape and dental floss" operations, Medrano says, that offer similar services with a staff of just one or two people.

"There's definitely people who will do it cheaper in their basement, and there's people that won't even look at those customers," he said.

Medrano expects Inflow fits somewhere in-between, monitoring mostly small numbers of servers for businesses that employ between 50 and 100 people. Monthly contracts for those customers can run between $500 and $2,000.

Inflow prides itself on its ability to keep networks running around the clock, with 24-hour surveillance by technical staff, and batteries and generators designed to enable an uninterruptible power supply.

In the past three years, Inflow has had just 10 minutes of downtime, according to Medrano. Even the recent San Diego wildfires didn't disrupt Inflow's systems, he said.

The San Diego site handles about 55 customers in San Diego and Orange County, and is looking to expand further north. There are a dozen similar Inflow data centers across the United States.

Geographical proximity lends to Inflow's ability to offer more personalized service, Medrano said. Kintera's office, for one, is just steps from Inflow's.

"Some people like to be able to go in and touch their servers every once in a while and make sure they're still there," Medrano said. "Or they know somebody by face and by name that they can call, and strangle if there's a problem."

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