Flashbase Tames the Gnarly World of Online Databases

In the old economy, vendors like Oracle (ORCL) and Sybase (SYBS) made billions by making databases expensive, complicated applications that were mind-boggling to execute on the desktop and nearly impossible to do on the Web.

In the new Net economy, Flashbase believes it can make money by providing simple, free online database applications that are so easy that they can be designed and maintained by people with no experience using nothing more than a web browser. Flashbase can also be used by members of online communities like GeoCities who can’t run specialized software or get custom site configurations.

“We’re talking about nothing less than the democritization of the database,” said Ed Sim, managing director of New York-based Dawntreader, L.P. which invested $1 million in first-round funding for Flashbase in June. “The database market is huge, broad and horizontal. The only players out there right now are in very narrow vertical niches.”

But how huge and broad is yet to be determined. Flashbase contends that the online market for database Application Service Providers is $8 billion, but the field is so new that estimates are even less precise than usual.

Regardless, Flashbase does offer exceptional power and flexibility with an ease not usually associated with databases.

“Flashbase is an outstanding Web application that is easy to use, cost effective and enhances our marketing and commerce efforts,” said Michael Aronowitz, President of (SLET) which uses Flashbase for its gift registry and shopping spree give-away contests.

After a quick sign-in on the Web site, users can start with a blank page or select from among already-built templates including order forms RSVPs for social and business events, surveys and tests, office applications like interview forms and HR forms, registration forms and even one to build an online help desk to track user support, bugs, or other issues.

VC Watch opened an account in less than a minute, and five minutes later, we finished a five question survey on whether or not there will be a wine glut. Another minute and the survey was linked to the home page of Wine Investment News.

A really good CGI programmer could create and debug this form in half an hour or less and send you a bill for $50 or $100 depending on how desperate you are. I could code the form in half an hour and spend the next two days figuring out what stupid typographical error I made that keeps bringing the server to its knees. Most people don’t know where to start and even if they did, chances are their ISP wouldn’t let them. Talk about a need to fill!

In addition to the free area, for $24.95 per month, Flashbase offers a premium account that offers access to its SSL secure server for credit card submissions (most people don’t do sockets), ups the number of records in each form from 1,000 to 100,000, offers the ability to upload data files from a desktop application and allows users to send e-mail to all the respondents who enter their addresses. In addition, the premium service provides for a number of custom page design abilities that also includes deleting the banner ads that Flashbase uses to support the free service.

Flashbase has certainly succeeded in conquering the brain-damaging, time-sucking effects of launching database applications on the Web. But as the company first to the market, their ultimate challenge will be to quickly acquire a Hotmail-sized base of customers before their competition wakes up and jumps into the fray.

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