Local Web-focused firms thriving

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:21 pm

despite downturn in dot-com world
The dot-com fallout was no surprise to Dan Aranda. “They were living on borrowed time,” said Aranda, co-owner and president of Headquarters.com, a Brookfield-based Web-site design and application programing firm. “They were living on an IPO (initial public offering) and the stock market. I and my partner Jim (Peroutka) own the company, and we didn’t borrow any money.
“The only people we have to answer to are our customers, not to the stock market or investors,” Aranda said.
Being debt-free is only one of the reasons that Headquarters.com, founded by Aranda in 1994, was able to weather the negative backlash that accompanied the dot.com collapse. Controlled growth is another. By operating within itself, not taking on debt to grow, Headquarters now has 11 employees.
“We give more responsibility to our employees, and we keep everyone real busy,” Aranda said. “We could easily hire a bunch of people and limit the amount of tasks that people do, but we’d rather keep the good people and keep them busy.”
Another reason for success is local companies’ ability to attract customers from the East and West coasts.
The only customers Aleksandar Ivanovic, co-owner and founder of Milwaukee-based Webcom, Inc., had in his first 12-18 months in business were from the coasts.
“There wasn’t a lot of money to be spent on advertising, so we used the Internet – that’s probably the cheapest way to advertise,” Ivanovic said of his start-up days in 1997. “And it appeared that people on the East and West coasts were much more in tune with what was happening on the Internet and using it as a tool to find products and services, compared to people here.”
East Coast clients are also a staple of Aranda’s customer base because “they get Madison Avenue quality at Midwest prices.”
Another Milwaukee firm has taken its Midwest approach to the East Coast. SpectraCom, one of Milwaukee’s longest-surviving Web-related firms, has opened in office in New York city, aimed at improving service for is growing group of East Coast clients, according to Jorian Clark, president and founder of the company.
“Demand for the company’s interactive strategies, online marketing, Web development, public relations, and research services has been gr owing, with much of that growth expected from companies based on the East Coast,” Clark said.
The firm’s New York office is at 747 3rd Ave. Its clients include the National Football League, Pfizer, Master Lock and Kohler.
SpectraCom marked its 10th anniversary in June. It was founded as a market research firm but diversified into interactive marketing and research with a specialization in the Internet in 1994.
SpectraCom has been growing at an average rate of 50% per year, according to Clark, who credits the growth to a conservative approach.
“We have shown that a conservative business model can succeed in the Internet economy,” Clark said in statement related to the SpectraCom’s anniversary. “By not taking venture capital money, or rushing into an IPO, and growing based only on our revenues, we have provided our clients with stability that is rare in this industry.”
One of the keys to Webcom’s success is that Ivanovic and many of his consultants are engineers by background.
“Normal IT people or programers may have the technical expertise, but not the functional expertise of how to solve day-to-day problems of manufacturers, especially manufacturers of build-to-order or engineer-to-order products,” Ivanovic said.
Webcom specializes in Web-site design, adapting the Configurator application to clients’ businesses and search engine optimization, which ensures clients’ Web sites will come up at the top of search lists. Configurator is a program that tells online customers if what they’re ordering is in stock, what the current price is, and whether the options they want are compatible, among other functions.
Another factor in both companies’ continued success is that they both have the programing expertise and the design expertise, so they can be one-stop shops for clients.
“What’s really important is to educate our customers on what we can offer them rather than just telling them what we’re going to do so they have this expectation that we can deliver a product,” said Webcom co-owner Milan Rajkovic. “What sets us apart is we actually offer guarantees to customers, so that if we don’t deliver or they have problems, we will make a full refund to them.”
Perhaps the most important factor in maintaining a successful Web consulting company is treating the customer well.
“As long as we keep treating our customers well,” says Aranda, “there’s no reason for them to go anywhere else.”
What to look for
So what should a company in search of a Web consultant look for?
For small to medium-sized companies without a high degree of technical sophistication, Ivanovic recommends looking through the various firms’ portfolios to see what they’ve done for other companies.
And ask if the consultants have done any work in your industry. Look through those Web sites to see if the consulting firm captured what the industry and companies in that industry are about. Headquarters.com gets a lot of calls from competitors of companies that Headquarters.com has designed Web sites for, according to Aranda.
Ask around. If company officials like what a Web consultant has done for the firm, they’ll tell you. Both Headquarters.com and Webcom get many clients from referrals and repeat business from current clients, a sign that previous work was done well.
When meeting or talking with consultants, make a note of who does more talking. Is the consultant concerned about your company’s needs or his?
“It’s always tough to decide where to spend money, especially for small businesses when their budgets are so tight and the money’s limited,” says Rajkovic. “Most companies will try to offer you what they have versus offering you what you need. I think the crucial thing is to spend your money in the best way that will benefit you as a company and your customers.
“Usually companies offering e-commerce solutions have three options and the customer has to pick which one they’ll use,” Rajkovic continues. “And you really don’t have flexibility, you don’t know what to expect and people end up buying services that they’re not going to use.”
Oct. 12, 2001 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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