The right connection Featured

8:00pm EDT April 30, 2006

As CEO of ATEN Technology Inc., Sampson Yang knows all about making good connections.

His business model involves the right mix of people and innovation to bring quality products to the customers of his company, a manufacturer and distributor of KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) and remote connectivity solutions.

“We’re not happy just to compete for market share with established products,” says Yang. “We want to develop products that meet the needs of our customers that no competitor has imagined yet.”

Since its founding in 1996, the company has doubled its revenue every two years, going from $46 million in 2004 to $62 million last year, while the number of employees has risen from two to 101.

Smart Business spoke with Yang about how he has grown ATEN Technology and how he differentiates his company from its competitors.

How have you grown your company?

Being a manufacturer, we are able to control the quality and cost, and we can react quickly to the demand of the market. The result is we can provide solutions to our customers in a more cost-effective manner.

We try not to diversify our business too much. We stay focused, making sure that we can do one thing well before we move on to others. We just recently turned down a half million (product order) from Asia because we are not perfectly comfortable with the fact that we can service the customer well.

The other thing is our commitment to providing excellent customer service. We provide dedicated tech support to all of our business partners and to the end-users. Our tech support hotline is 24/7/365. We think that’s a part our customers very much appreciate.

We have a group of hardworking people who really care about our company, and in fact, many of our employees have worked for the company since it was very, very small. They are still very loyal to the company. And the new employees, they are as good as (the old).

How do you attract those kinds of people?

I think it’s our philosophy. Innovation, creativity, fun are the three components of it. People are not necessarily coming looking at just the salary. They want to feel that they can do something; they are in a fun environment.

How do you promote that philosophy internally?

I have an open door policy. Whenever any employee has a new idea or product — some business process, anything, even if it’s a crazy idea — all those are welcome. Sometimes we go out to lunch together in a more casual, nonbusiness environment to brainstorm about new ideas.

Everyone is encouraged to try new things. Sometimes the result may not be as good as we expected, but we appreciate the passion and the willingness to try new things. You learn from mistakes sometimes. Next time you come up with something new, you learn from your experience.

How do you ensure the quality of your products?

Every product we ship out of the door needs to pass 26 stations. Each station has its functional tests, feature tests and electronics tests.

Quality control is important to us because of the commitment we have made to our customers to provide products that are economic, user-friendly and highly dependable. Our focus on quality actually starts during research and development. We aim our R&D efforts at creating new products that are both creative and reliable. We question our designs at every phase of development and constantly look for ways to keep them simple and efficient.

How do you differentiate your service from that of your competitors?

The tech support hotline is one way we can add value. We recognize that there is often a learning curve in using technology. Our customers can be confident that if they buy one of our products, someone will be available to answer their questions and provide advice.

We sell our products around the world. It doesn’t matter where a customer makes a purchase; he or she can receive help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We’re very proud of the quality of our technical support. Our commitment ... begins with training. The team receives its training from our product managers, who know their equipment from the ground up. Each product manager has a solid understanding that extends to initial research and development.

In addition to passing on their technical knowledge, the product managers communicate something else of critical importance. I call it the customer mindset. They teach the tech support reps to constantly think about our products from the end user’s point of view.

Another way we make a strong commitment to technical support is by ensuring all of our reps have hands-on experience. In fact, they work only steps away from a lab where they can test our equipment any time.

How do you come up with new products?

We do listen very carefully to what our customers say ... what they are using, what they see the future will be. We do have a survey after each call, which asks the customers if there’s anything they would consider buying in the near future.

That is very helpful to our R&D and product management team to determine what will be the next product we want to introduce to the market.

HOW TO REACH: ATEN Technology Inc., www.aten-usa.com