Early tech adopter now guiding small businesses

By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Pamela O’Hara got her first insight into the power of the Internet in the mid-1990s, when she was employed as the webmaster for a trade organization for grocery stores, the Food Marketing Institute. More

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Early tech adopter now guiding small businesses

WIDE WEB: Pamela O’Hara, CEO of BatchBlue, in red, helped make U.S. Rep. James Clyburn one of the first congressmen with a Web presence in the 1990s.
By John Larrabee
Contributing Writer
Posted 5/16/11

Pamela O’Hara got her first insight into the power of the Internet in the mid-1990s, when she was employed as the webmaster for a trade organization for grocery stores, the Food Marketing Institute.

“There was an E. coli outbreak involving an apple juice producer,” she recalled, “and we were able to get word out immediately. That’s when I realized this tool was fast becoming an important part of the world’s communication system.”

O’Hara is the CEO and co-founder of the software-development company BatchBlue Software LLC. The Providence outfit, founded in 2006, is dedicated to creating Web applications for small businesses. Its flagship product is Batchbook, a Web-based social contact-relationship manager.

“We provide software for small startups that’s very easy, very mobile and very reasonably priced,” O’Hara said. “Using our services, a company can set up their customer database very easily, and share that information with the rest of their team, their employees, their accountant or whomever else they’re working with. Because it’s Web-based, you can access it from any computer or your phone or iPad.”

Pamela O’Hara took her first step toward a career in technology while studying at the University of Richmond in Virginia in the early 1990s. Her parents sent her off to college with an early Mac. “It was the only home computer in my dorm,” she recalled. “Back then a college would have 15 terminals and a dot matrix printer for students, and to use them you had to sign up and show an ID. That meant everyone was using mine.”

After graduating from college with a degree in English and history, O’Hara took a job working for U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat. During that time she also took a course on Web design, and set up a Web page for her boss, making Clyburn one of the first members of Congress with an Internet presence.

After that, O’Hara worked as a consultant for a number of small businesses, specializing in data-management tools and methodologies. She then co-founded Matrix Group International, a Web-development firm in the Washington, D.C., area.

She met her husband, Geoff O’Hara, while working for Clyburn. He worked for Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Ron Machtley at the time, in an office just down the hall. After their marriage they relocated to her husband’s home state, Rhode Island. He now runs the Northeast regional office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Providence.

After settling in Barrington, O’Hara continued to work remotely for Matrix Group, but eventually decided she wanted to launch her own business. “Because I had small children, I wanted something that offered a flexible schedule,” she said. “And I also wanted to help other people in the same situation, who needed flexible hours.”

Soon she teamed up with her neighbors, Sean Ransom and Michelle Riggen-Ransom, both technology professionals, and they launched BatchBlue. The company became known for extensive customer engagement through online forums and social media.

The company website offers blogs and “blue papers,” their take on white “research” papers. O’Hara and Michelle Riggen-Ransom also periodically host a small-business Twitter chat (sbbuzz.biz) that’s followed by small-business owners from around the world.

“It’s not easy, but it’s very rewarding,” O’Hara said when asked for advice for other small-business owners. “Enjoy the good moments and don’t give up.” •

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