Start-up Profile: Private lives

Chris Lingley wanted to deal with an ISP that was gay-friendly. He couldn't find one, so he set one up.

Chris Lingley wanted to deal with an ISP that was gay-friendly. He couldn't find one, so he set one up.

How did you get involved in setting up an ISP especially aimed at the gay community?
Actually, it was my idea, based on information I'd gained from my knowledge of the Internet industry and from my friends and contacts in the gay community. There simply wasn't anything else like it available at the time.

What was the motivation behind the launch of theMANspace?
'A-Oh-Hell', as one of my friends put it. AOL, rightly or wrongly, has long been perceived by the gay community as a homophobic organisation. I got fed up of my friends complaining about their difficulties with the ISP because of its 'nannying' behaviour to the gay community.

I run a very private (by invitation only) chat group of gay men, which has over 400 members, many of whom are very well known, and a major topic of discussion has been AOL and the many difficulties they have experienced with Internet service providers which found some aspect of either their homepage or email address unacceptable - usually when it referred to some aspect of their sexuality. It seems to be a problem particularly when you are gay, rather than straight.

What were your key aims at the beginning?
Ultimately, to create a small but successful business that would assist the gay community, although I wasn't quite clear how to go about it when I started thinking about starting an ISP. I originally wanted theMANspace to quickly top 100,000 users and be very profitable.

However, as it developed, I realised that I needed to find a balance between private happiness and a successful business. As an ISP we don't want to be your everything, were merely want to assist you to do whatever you want.

We've also tried to avoid the experience of other 'dot bombs' by growing slowly and not making a big splash. We do not wish to be another gay.com or queercompany.com - we want to be an ISP, Web design and hosting company, no more and no less.

Have these aims been achieved?
In terms of financial success, not yet. We haven't quite got to our desired user base but that's ok because our plans have changed considerably since we launched. The events of 11 September had a big influence on the world and it has had an effect on me. As a result, our plans have changed.

What's so different about the service you provide?
Apart from our target user base - and hopefully the fact that our users get treated with a respect that they don't get elsewhere - very little.

What difficulties did you face getting started?
As all funds used so far have been raised privately we experienced very little difficulty in getting the beginning phase off the ground. However, some companies that we needed in the beginning didn't wish to be associated with us and we had to find alternatives. The main difficulties have come as we have tried to expand though.

What's it like to work there?
Fun and educational. As a very small company, everyone does everything and we never know what's going to happen next but at the end of the day the buck stops with me. Like any small company there is never enough time to do all the things we should do. I don't think it's any different to any other small IT department, although we possibly get an unexpected insight into other people's private lives more frequently than most.

Was the service well received and/or well taken up?
Not as well as I'd have liked but not all my plans have been put into action yet.

Where do you go from here?
We plan to launch in the US before launching services in continental Europe. We are in the process of setting up in the US but it's taking longer than I expected.

Almost all of the technical and support requirements are in place but we have no websites to support it. At present, our biggest stumbling block is finding the time to design the websites that we need to operate as we are busy with clients' websites.

What's it been like so far?
A roller coaster ride, never knowing what's going to happen next. There have been great highs and lows. It's been an incredible experience that has allowed me to dream and still have constant brushes with reality.

www.themanspace.co.uk
This was last published in March 2002

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