Executive Profile: Bryan Chan on Spam, Lies and a Greener Grid

Bryan Chan, 42, president and founder of SupraNet Communications, Inc., Madison, hopes one day to visit all the U.S. National Parks, but there's one problem: He keeps returning to his favorite four — Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Zion. With the vastness of each park promising endless possibilities, perhaps it follows logically that Chan's fascination would translate into a career in another type of expanse — cyberspace.

Chan grew up in Los Altos, California, in the San Francisco Bay area. His father, an electrical engineer, and mother, a realtor, were immigrants from Hong Kong who met in Boston. Though Chan graduated with an English degree from UW-Madison in 1991, computers were always his hobby.

In 1992, Chan's older brother — now an anti-spam expert — invited him to a Las Vegas trade show. "At that time, nobody knew much about the Internet," he said. "But at this show, everyone was trying to figure out if it could be used commercially, and wondering what the implications of that would be. It all sounds so ridiculous now," he said.

Still, he came away from the event with a newfound vision. "Those companies (IBM, etc.) didn1t know what to do with [the Internet], so I saw an opportunity." Forget English. Chan returned to Madison determined to find a job "surfing the Web." He started SupraNet Communications, Inc., a business Internet provider, in 1994. "It was tough going at first," he admitted. "I couldn't get funding or a loan, so I had to bootstrap the company because it was too new. The joke was that the bank gave us a loan, but really we were borrowing our own money. We had nothing to use as collateral." One of Chan's early clients, George Gialamas, was so "wowed" by the potential of the Internet that he offered Chan free office space and a business address in exchange for lessons. Gialamas laughed, "[Chan] was a hard-working, very dedicated, and intelligent young man, but I never did learn the Internet very well." SupraNet now has 16 employees and just celebrated its 15th anniversary.

"We've lost a few clients due to the economy," Chan acknowledged, "but actually, we've grown 7% this year, on track to our 10% goal." The company continues to adapt to technological changes, including the sinister world of spam. "The power of the Internet is its ability to connect people to each other," he said, but unfortunately spam comprises most of the e-mails out there. "Criminals in foreign countries are constantly trying to gain access to our computers. We think there are millions and millions of compromised PCs out there," he said.

When he's not battling online criminal activity, Chan works hard to keep his business ethical and its reputation clean. "When I started the company, what mattered most was our reputation," he said. He's since learned that there is an even more nobler mission: "Tell the truth even when it hurts you," he said.

"We've created an industry-wide culture of deceiving customers. Everyone thinks computers and the Internet are so green, when in fact we're a huge user of electricity." Chan said the entire Internet uses enough electricity as the country of Sweden, and the usage keeps increasing. The industry, he said, also creates a tremendous amount of e-waste from outdated, discarded parts.

Chan has taken the wastefulness to heart. "We've reduced our consumption of energy by about 20 percent," he said, "through consolidation of servers and virtualization. We also pool our resources." His new goal is to become energy independent. "We need to create something that would take ourselves off the grid if we needed to," he said, hoping the company will one day generate its own electricity. "It could take another 15 years, but it's a worthy goal."

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