This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
You have a product that is perfect for a prime market niche. You even have the knowledge, energy and enough capital to launch your new business.
All you lack is the respect so often tied to the trappings of success.
Enter Davinci International Inc. and other such businesses, which make sure your clients will never know that you are your only employee, or that you work off a phone, laptop and secondhand desk from a garage office.
Starting at $59 a month and ranging higher depending on features chosen, the newest entrepreneur in Utah can get all or portions of a "virtual office" package - a local or toll-free phone and fax numbers, professional receptionist services, appointment scheduling, order processing and even an upscale mailing address in a neighborhood or city of your choosing.
"First impressions can be everything," says Davinci President/CEO Bill Grodnik. "We run a client's office, while they run their business."
The Utah company is not alone in offering virtual office services, but it might be distinct in being able to also handle a successful startup's next logical corporate step - physical office and conference room space, when needed.
Whether for use just once a month, weekly or for a full year, Davinci's clients can choose from a variety of executive suites at more than 600 U.S. locations, along with the services and equipment of the big-time corporate spreads - phone, Internet, mail and receptionist services.
The 10-year-old, privately held company does not release financial data, but it is in the fast lane for growth of clientele. Grodnik puts current customers at more than 200 in Utah, and well more than 1,000 nationally.
Martin Senn, who came on 18 months ago to oversee preparations for the May launch of the virtual office program nationwide, says Davinci is "right on schedule" to top 10,000 clients by this time next year.
"We want people to know [Davinci] is a great place to grow without having money tied up in infrastructure," Senn adds. "We can't make them coffee, but we can do everything else for them."
For those who might wonder about the ethics of promoting the facade of, say, a prestigious, New York City office address for a West Valley City home office-working consultant, Grodnik says everyone should benefit from the blessings of the cyberage.
"For example, there's this good local attorney who answers his own phone. He's a really good attorney, but the first impression is that of a small-time, one man show," he says. "Then we have another attorney just out of law school, but he has just the opposite impression [because he has a] business address and phone answering."
Grodnik's conclusion to the ethical conundrum? "Small businesses need all the leg up they can get today. It's tougher and tougher to compete. . . . We're just leveling the playing field," he says.
Observers of the growing virtual office trend agree. The bottom line, they say, is product and performance.
"Virtual offices are a great idea for early stage organizations . . . where there is no need for manufacturing or other physical facilities to produce the product," says Tom Davenport, research director for executive education at Babson College. "This a great way to facilitate entrepreneurial activity."
If the folks at Davinci needed any confirmation of that, they need only look at the venerable Runzheimer International. The Rochester, Wis.-based company, founded in 1933, boasts that it provides employee "mobility" services - relocation, international assignments, travel - to more than half of the Fortune 500.
Runzheimer launched its own Virtual Office Services division in late July, hoping to claim its stake in the trend toward serving small business and corporate-level telecommuting workers. Spokeswoman Kristina Gribovskaja says solid research backs the endeavor.
"We see [the] virtual office as a growing industry," she says, adding that a recent study sponsored by Runzheimer showed more than a third of responding businesses plan to increase spending related to virtual offices this year.
Another 31 percent planned to maintain their current service levels, 32 percent were uncertain and only 6 percent planned to trim spending.
Anita Campbell, editor and CEO of Small Business Trends (http://www.smallbiztrends.com), hails the "stripped down, virtual business [as] a key way to keep costs down." That is especially true for one-person operations.
The potential market is huge, with an estimated 1.5 million small businesses in the United States consisting of one person. "Offices have become more of a state of mind, [using] some electronic gadgets along with . . . the occasional place to meet clients or hold meetings," Campbell adds.
Bob Mascaro of Infill Cos., a land use and acquisition consulting firm, says he has benefited from Davinci's services in both the physical and virtual business realms.
Log on to his Web site (http://www.infillcompanies.com) and you find contact information for a company in Suite 500 of the East Cottonwood Parkway in southeast Salt Lake City. A call is quickly answered and transferred seamlessly to his cell phone.
Starting out eight years ago, Mascaro used answering services and occasional office space. His business took off, but more and more it was outside the state. Two years ago, he opted for more virtual services to keep him in touch on his frequent flights to Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and other points nationwide.
"It's working well for me. I am able to access all of my records from anywhere I can hook up my laptop," he says. "If I need to make a presentation, they can put it together for me."
April Howard, an insurance agent in Boise, Idaho, appreciates the professionalism she says Davinci operators display, earning her company compliments from clients.
"They are friendly, upbeat. [Transferred] callers never know that they haven't actually reached me at the office [and that] helps retain clients and gain referred clients alike."
* Although virtual office services typically fall in the $100-$250 per month range, some companies estimate that it costs at least $3,000-$4,000 a month to add one full-time receptionist, when pay, insurance and benefits are considered.