Net Gains

By Lori Johnston Photography by William S. Speer February 28, 2009

Three local technology companies that are using the Internet to earn big bucks for a global collection of clients are growing exponentially, even as the economy sags. Method Factory, atLarge and IntegraClick are expanding faster than a high-speed Internet connection, adding employees and offices as each seeks to stand out in their sector. Leaders of all three detailed plans for 2009, and discussed why being based here benefits their business.

Method Factory

The timing couldn’t have been worse for Method Factory: The four founders launched the Web-based application firm six years ago, just after the tech bubble burst, making operating lean essential to the company’s success. Now as other companies grapple with shrinking budgets, Sarasota-based Method Factory, a software design, development and integration company, is posting explosive growth in revenues and employees. But Steve Walter, who at 44 is the oldest of the four founders, still remembers the troublesome environment the company faced early on.

His company had to avoid guilt by association after consumers had been burned by technology companies that didn’t have legitimate returns for the investment they were asking clients to make. It did so by establishing a core group of clients that led to recurring business, with Method Factory taking customers from “the Flintstones to the Jetsons,” Walter says.

Method Factory’s 100-plus clients earn between $20 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. Rather than concentrating on one geographic area, customers are based in several major U.S. cities (an estimated 20 percent are in Southwest Florida). The company expects 30 percent to 40 percent growth from 2007-2008 (it wouldn’t disclose specific revenue figures), and its 2009 budget factored in another 30 percent to 40 percent increase in revenue.

The move in February 2008 into the renovated 1925 Waterworks warehouse on

North Orange Avenue
helped chip away at the company’s Achilles’ heel: finding qualified, young technology professionals in a retirement-based economy. Its old space in a former Chase Bank at the corner of North Washington and Fruitville roads, Walter says, lacked the creative vibe the new place offers. “It’s got more energy as opposed to leased space in an old bank building,” says Walter, whose company had 24 employees in late 2008 and plans to hire seven more this year (on top of six hires in 2008).

Layoffs at other companies have benefited Method Factory as well. “With the job market’s tightening, [workers are] much more receptive to relocating or making a little drive to come to Sarasota,” Walter says. He adds that another office in Atlanta or Charlotte, N.C., could be in the company’s future, citing those cities’ ability to attract tech professionals.

Method Factory’s clients aren’t cutting back. Walter explains that the company’s work—custom application development, system integration, support of previously developed services and managed hosting—isn’t  seen as discretionary, but core to their operations. It also helps companies be more efficient, Walter says, allowing them to eliminate redundancies.

Method Factory has refrained from focusing on a particular industry and concentrates on growing niches in areas such as Texas, where it’s seized opportunities sparked by the state’s energy production.

But its founders hold their hometown dear. The partners—Walter, James Williamson, Michael Brady and Scott Auer—all have lived in the Sarasota area for more than 15 years, worked for large organizations and dealt with crazed travel schedules. They wanted to leave the “road warrior” lifestyle.

“One of our guiding principals is to not grow the business to the detriment of our quality of life,” Walter says. “You could live in New York, or one of those crazy places and probably grow faster or make more money, but you know how that goes.”

atLarge (Edit note: the “a” is lowercased in the company name)

The four “F”s—fun, forward, fame and financial—are what atLarge founder Anand Pallegar considers before taking on a client. The Sarasota-based multimedia marketing firm has created a multifaceted client portfolio that was expected to double in revenue from 2007 to 2008. The company focuses on Internet brand development, which includes Web site creation and search engine optimization. 

AtLarge leverages online tools to predict customer behavior, which Pallegar says allows them to build better brands in a digital space.

“There’s so much innovation that’s happening around this medium. The transparency and ability for it to connect with your life is going to be one of the biggest drivers,” he says. “How does the device enable [customers] to connect to the most relevant information [they] need? In our business, what the Internet is enabling us to do is to define and see accurate return on investment, but also customer behavior.”

If Pallegar didn’t already have the company up and going, he believes this would have been the time to do so, citing that a “startling number” of companies on the Inc. 500 list were founded after Sept. 11.

“If I wasn’t running atLarge today, I’d be starting a company in this economy. There are more opportunities today than there are in a thriving economy. You’ve just got to be a little more strategic,” says Pallegar, 30, who moved here from Michigan in 2004 to recuperate from a car accident at his parents’ home in Bradenton. He liked the area and stayed partly because of the business community’s support for his ideas.

Pallegar finds clients are spending as much or more on Internet marketing than last year. AtLarge, which was founded in 2004, offers its clients the expertise to help them succeed online.

“We’re creating progressive ideas. That’s really been one of the key elements, our ability to present strategies and solutions to companies and organizations in this market that are different, that aren’t just the normal copycat strategies,” he says.

Those customers, among them the Sarasota Film Festival, Ford Motor Company, Ringling College of Art and Design, Hoveround, Michael’s On East and the Detroit Regional Chamber, have grown from 21 in 2006 to 73 by the end of 2008. AtLarge has expanded its staff as a result, reaching 11 employees by the end of 2008, and it plans to hire more with the opening of a Tampa office this year. “Our goal is to become a statewide leader in our industry,” Pallegar says.

The company’s revenues are not reliant on a particular industry, and that diversity allows it to be based in Sarasota but buffers it from local economic conditions.

The company isn’t immune to what it sees is a lackluster labor pool here of programmers and creative professionals. Pallegar says staff recruitment and retention continue to be a challenge. The company is trying to help put the spotlight on the region from a technology perspective by hosting conferences and being involved in area schools to snap up prospective employees. But the beaches and arts still can’t compete with cities such as San Francisco for young professionals seeking a vibrant city, Pallegar says.

“We’re not known as a hotbed for tech geeks,” he admits.


Sarasota’s retirement and tourism focus keeps IntegraClick out of the limelight for now. And that’s just fine with its executives.

“It makes it that much harder for our competitors to spy on us,” says Graham Gochneaur, vice president of marketing. “They don’t see what we’re doing until we’ve launched it and we’re taking that market share.”

But their secret may be out. The online advertising company grew its revenues to $100 million in 2008, with plans to reach $200 million this year and hit the $1 billion mark by the end of the decade. 

IntegraClick, founded in 2002 by CEO John Lemp and chief financial director Amanda Huntington, is the parent company of Clickbooth, whose clients include major companies such as Blockbuster, Dish Network and ADT.

“When people look at spending money online, traditional advertising and marketing have been a pay-and-see-what-you-get kind of deal,” Gochneaur says. “We work on a little different model. Advertisers don’t actually pay us until we send them a customer or we send them an actual sale.” This cost-per-acquisition model, which for some clients can be a sale or for others can mean acquiring a lead, gives companies what Gochneaur calls a “risk-free” way to use their advertising and marketing dollars.

Gochneaur explains that major corporations are tired of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising when the results can’t be guaranteed. Clickbooth generates $50 for every person who subscribes to Blockbuster’s online rental program, for example.

Its reach dictates what type of clients Clickbooth can take on—national and international companies that have, for example, 20,000 sales a day. Only two of its thousands of clients (Gochneaur estimates they have about 2,000 on the advertising side and work with about 25,000 Web site publishers) are in Sarasota, where Lemp, a New York native, moved after working for an online firm in Tampa. (The company would not name its Sarasota clients.)

“They have to be able to take the scale we can bring, or we don’t work with them,” Gochneaur says.

Clickbooth plans to hire about 100 employees this year, from recent college graduates to people with nearly 20 years of experience in the tech industry. Published reports have said the company currently has 60 employees; executives would not confirm that figure. Its

North Cattlemen Road
office can accommodate 300 employees, and workers find a setup that’s reminiscent of the ’90s tech boom, with a ping pong table, pool table and a $3,000 massage chair.

“We work our butts off,” Gochneaur says. “You can walk in this office at 8:30 in the morning or 8:30 at night, and I guarantee you, there’s always somebody working. But we like to have a good time, as well.”

Growth is IntegraClick’s biggest challenge. As the number of clients has skyrocketed, for example, it’s had to make adjustments such as changing its e-mail system three times because the volume has crashed programs.

Clickbooth’s executives say they realize it’s important not to fight change, internally or in the marketplace. “The companies that make it are the ones that really embrace having to adapt and accept change for what it is, and that get excited about change,” Gochneaur says.  

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