Breaking barriers Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

Karen Brown, president of DataNow Corp., has made a name for herself by breaking the mold. “We don’t really go by old models or old ideas because the industry that we’re in is not an old industry,” she says. “So generally, we look at everything fresh, including new innovations and creative ways to use older things, too.”

Brown has subscribed to that philosophy from Day One. She founded the business, which specializes in electronic workflow solutions, out of her home in 1992. As she added employees over the years, she found that she could tap into a wider and better-qualified pool of job candidates if she completely disregarded where they were located.

“It actually happened by default rather than design,” she says. “When I decided to expand my staff, the virtual office had already been working for me for years, and we decided to try it in an expanded version and it worked really well.”

Now, with 20 employees, DataNow still has no offices. All employees work out of their homes, and interact with customers and other employees via e-mail and the Internet. Staff meetings are conducted over the company’s intranet.

With today’s shortage of good tech people, Brown uses programmers as far away as New Zealand, most of whom specialize in Lotus Notes and Java. “On certain projects, it’s just as seamless to the customer as using someone who’s entirely local,” she says.

In England and New Zealand, Brown says, the technology job market is flooded with Asians and Russians who will program more cheaply than their counterparts in this country. Because of the competition, she says good programmers often look to make money outside of those countries, which creates a great opportunity for U.S. companies with virtual offices.

Brown is able to give her employees the freedom to think creatively by avoiding traditional job descriptions when they are hired.

“Generally, when we hire someone, instead of saying, ‘This is our definition of this job,’ we talk to the person and find out where they will bring value to the company and what makes them happy,” she says. “We try to tailor each job to the individual person’s skills. If we like somebody, we’ll make a job for them that fits.”

This month, Brown will break another rule, this time one of her own. She’s opening a physical office in Barberton, “a think tank place for developers,” she says.

While she won’t require employees to work out of the office, she says it will provide a place for people to work collaboratively, when necessary. “We decided that we were getting better results out of our developers when they could work in teams. It’s going to be interesting to see what they come up with.”

So far, Brown’s strategy seems to be working. DataNow has been recognized in its industry as a finalist in the Lotus Beacon Awards for the last two years. Brown has been selected as a regional finalist in the 1999 Working Woman Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards in the Innovative Approaches category.

How to reach: DataNow, (330) 645-1255