Here's the pitch: a branded browser

The latest twist on the free ISP concept: Brand3 - the company whose software fuses an advertiser's logo into your browser, e-mail and desktop.

Brand3, an Internet service provider based in Los Angeles, came calling with news of its latest $2 million financing round from TransCosmos, Coleman, and Angel Investors. Company executives were also eager to show off the service. Brand3 claims to be the first free ISP to secure funding before going live with its service.

The Pitch: Say your company wants to give its customers free Internet access. Brand3 would be your partner. The company's software allows you to brand the ISP with your company's logos, information and e-commerce interface.

The Presenters: Ryan Gilbert, executive VP of business development; Mark Gibbs, CTO; and Andrew Sherman, executive VP of retail and e-commerce.

So what exactly are these guys selling? Brand3 is the latest of the "free ISP" breed. But there's a twist. You won't find advertisements served through your browser, as is normally the case. Instead, the software, called Gluon, fuses a company's logo into the user's browser, e-mail and desktop. So a bookseller, for example, might offer its customers the Brand3 service as a way to keep its logo high on the user's desktop.

How Did They Present It? Coffee and conversation at Starbucks. Straight from a meeting with potential customers, the guys were wearing suits, except for Gilbert, who, in typical Silicon Valley garb, was jacketless. No laptops, PowerPoint demo, or slide show (whew).

Best Line: "Any nut with a checkbook can give away Net access. But even with free access, if the service is shit, you'll piss your brand away."

Worst Line: "We're defenders of your brand." (A reference to free ISP NetZero's "Defenders of the Free" campaign.)

What Happened: The guys at Brand3 are great pitchmen, if a bit over the top at times. Mark Gibbs writes two weekly items for Network World magazine. He's adept at explaining business models. Ryan Gilbert, on the other hand, goes for the hard sell. A couple of times Gibbs and Andy Sherman squirmed and asked that some of Ryan's more over-the-top quotes not be printed. But in this business, where pitchmen tend to be so bland, his exuberance was refreshing.

Baffled Journalist's Main Problem: It's hard enough to make money when people pay for their Internet access, and even harder when you rely on advertising revenue, like competitor NetZero does. Brand3 is expecting partners to use their service, even though it offers neither subscription or ad-based revenue models. And that seems like a lot to expect.

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