Chicago-based startup eppraisals.com sought to deploy a new business model
utilizing the web to offer art and antiques appraisal services to the
general public through a network of experts scattered across the country.
An enjoyable, yet efficient site was critical in creating a community
of art lovers and appraisal professionals. Eppraisals.com engaged Chicago-based
Digital Business Services Provider (DBSP) Lante Corporation (Lante) to
build their site because of Lante's competencies and willingness to meet
incredibly tight deadlines.
Leslie Hindman, a 20-year veteran of the art world, founded Eppraisals.com
shortly after she sold her own Chicago bricks and mortar auction house
to Sotheby's. Throughout her career Hindman had received thousands of
letters from people requesting information about their items. She realized
the web would be the perfect medium to provide quick, efficient and thorough
information and value for people around the world. Besides having a lengthy
career, Leslie Hindman is a well-known and public figure in the art world,
with two top-rated television shows covering art and antiques on the Home
and Garden network (HGTV), and a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune
family of newspapers. She is also publishing a book this fall on buying
and selling at auction. Her high profile and experience in the industry
assisted her in early 1999 to raise several million dollars from contacts
in the industry, to subsequently hire key personnel, and launch the business.
eppraisals.com site is composed of three distinct parts: a consumer side
where customers upload images and other data for evaluation; a second
site for the 700 plus members of a geographically dispersed network of
nationally recognized experts who view and evaluate the items, and a third
site for administrative purposes including quality assurance.
a "first mover," eppraisals.com wanted to establish and maintain a dominant
position within the industry as quickly as possible. CIO Henry King faced
the daunting task of getting a sophisticated e-commerce website up and
running within a four month period. The challenge of selecting a DBSP
who not only had the necessary capabilities, but also was willing to commit
to eppraisals.com's aggressive schedule, was a priority. As a "first mover,"
eppraisals.com wanted to establish and maintain a dominant position within
the industry as quickly as possible. CIO Henry King faced the daunting
task of getting a sophisticated e-commerce website up and running within
a four month period. The challenge of selecting a DBSP who not only had
the necessary capabilities, but also was willing to commit to eppraisals.com's
aggressive schedule, was a priority.
King made a conscious decision not to approach the larger consulting firms,
and instead created a short list of companies that specialize in internet-based
development, including Organic, Razorfish, Sapient and Lante. King felt
that these companies were more likely to understand the needs of a dotcom
startup, would be more flexible and nimble, and would have a more complete
range of the appropriate skill sets to meet the requirements of a web
design and development project. Knowing that the development process would
be highly dynamic, King also felt face-to-face interaction was critical.
Corporation was selected largely because of its core capabilities and
focus on speed, but other factors were included. For example, the company
strictly adhered to the RFP from Hindman and King, unlike another vendor
on the short list who tried to sell them an entire digital strategy and
whose arrogant attitude was a major reason for being rejected. Lante was
also able to work well with Wolff-Olins, a U.K.-based firm that eppraisals.com
had retained to develop its branding and visual design strategy. Lastly,
like eppraisals.com, Lante is located in Chicago.
the Engagement Process
Lante's challenge was to design and build the three websites (i.e. collector,
expert and administrative), the back-end database of customers, and methods
to access information, authenticate data, create a means for the community
of experts to interact, and manage the distribution of work to them. Lante
also provided a personalization capability to the site for users to keep
a portfolio of their items. Furthermore, Lante's solution also handled
scalability issues related to data management and other elements of the
technical architecture. Essentially, Lante did the full systems design
and lifecycle development process for the web-based B2C and B2B business.
eppraisals.com team realized there were many different opportunities for
business development. However, rather than get distracted by the multiple
opportunities, the team focused on key requirements, ensuring that the
project was manageable and the result effective within the time and budget.
This clear view was critical for both the service provider and the client
in order to successfully execute the project.
Services and Value of Solution Delivered
Speedy deployment of a quality website was eppraisals.com's highest order
requirement. By the time the work was to begin, three vacation periods
loomed - Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the 2000 celebrations. However,
Lante held to its promise and met the demanding schedule, which impressed
Hindman and her entire staff.
other positive aspects of the engagement with Lante, Mr. King said that
Lante was extremely easy to work with. Issues arose, as in any significant
or complex project. One involved some dissatisfaction on the part of eppraisals.com
with the implementation of the website visual design - they felt that
it could have been better. The root cause of this was that top-end design
personnel were not on the team. However, the overall implementation was
good and viewed as successful. To date, the site has not experienced any
will work with Lante again on the second and larger phase of the project.
Lante listened to their concerns, and Lante's customer-centric approach
won them the work. For this second phase, designers absent from the first
phase will join the same team that created the initial website, along
with other, more senior, personnel. This meant continuity of the development
team, an important issue as the business model learning curve was largely
behind them. King is confident that Lante can fulfill its second engagement
will continue its relationship with Lante for the foreseeable future although
it is building up its internal team of expertise to maintain and eventually
develop the website and backend solutions. They anticipate adding four
new web developers to their current staff of four (2 Development/ 2 Content).
Eppraisals.com currently has 45 employees and is growing rapidly.
the presence of an IT department, the changing world of the Internet will
always create opportunities for service providers to supply specialized
skills and continue their relationships with their clients.
- Lante understood that key customer requirements were speed and flexibility,
and responded appropriately to both. This formed the basis for a solid
relationship that led to additional business.
- Listen to your customers when they indicate they aren't interested
in certain products or services you offer. Remember that one prospective
vendor lost out due to their authoritarian approach in pushing their
strategic services offering.
- Speed is consistently a top-tier user requirement; do you have the
ability to deliver fast?
- Be aware of, and continually monitor, customer expectations in all
aspects of an engagement. Had Lante sensed eppraisals.com's dissatisfaction
with some of the design work earlier, they could have made adjustments
- Ensure your client has a clear vision prior to execution, particularly
if time and budget are a major concern. A client engagement that lacks
a clear vision of the capabilities the e-business is to deliver can
be expected to result in complications, delays and budget creep. Clear
communication of the goals is essential.
- As the relationship continues, expect your client to build up its
own internal capabilities and your role to decline. However, as the
client looks to the future, a good relationship should assist you in
securing the re-tooling and specialized applications business.
- Always ask for the credentials of prospective vendor personnel who
are key to your project and obtain a firm commitment as to their participation
prior to finalizing a contract.
- Continually monitor all critical areas of your project and voice
concerns early and often.
- Provide full-time project management in-house as the vendor project
- Building up internal expertise can lower your long-term costs. You
can take advantage of the service provider as an educational route for
your key personnel.
- The management team must have industry experience and be focused
on the requirements of the core business needs prior to selecting and
executing a project: this gives a clear development path to the service
- Raising equity is obviously a great deal easier if you have a public
figure and recognized authority within your industry on-board. For the
investor, knowing that a successful industry expert with a clear vision
and understanding of the business goal is a key member of the management
team provides the additional ensurance for a potentially successful
Digital Business Service Provider.
A Service provider who assists clients in building new businesses and
adding capabilities to existing businesses in the digital medium.