Web Construction and Application Firm Finds Tacoma a Good Place to Grow a Company

“The offices of Web-X are airy, informal and open, not upscale or fancy. There is no ostentatious slick side to this high-tech firm’s public presence. In fact, you’d have to look past the surface to know this is one of Tacoma’s more successful and growing high-tech firms.Web-X builds mid-to-high-end web sites and develops custom applications for Web use. The firm recently moved to larger offices at 738 Broadway in downtown Tacoma to accommodate its growing staff while remaining tapped into the bandwidth necessary for conducting business on the Web.Company President and co-founder Joey Caisse said the firm is focusing on constructing components of web sites over the $250,000 mark, as well as complete sites. Web-X has done web site construction and application development for companies like IBM, Real Networks, Windstar Cruises, Paramount Parks and others.The company also works with industry leaders such as Razorfish, and marketing firms such as Hunt Marketing Group.Web-X has grown from two to 17 employees since its launch five years ago. While that may not be an extremely rapid pace, it has been a sustainable one, Caisse said.It hasn’t been an easy road to get here, Caisse said of the firm’s growth. He recounted 24-hour stints working on particular projects. One project, finished early this year, required working seven-days-a-week, 15-hours-a-day for five employees through the holidays. They did get Christmas and New Year’s off.This requires commitment and hard work, Caisse said. There’s no secret recipe.After that particular project, the company has returned to the business norm of five-day workweeks and regular day shifts. Caisse said he doesn’t believe working in the high-tech world is much different than any other business.This business is no different than if you’re a bricklayer, Caisse said. The theory that you have an idea and get rich from the idea is not true. We treat our business just like any other.And while Caisse may not yet be an Internet millionaire, the results of his, and co-founder and Chief Technical Officer Scott Anderson’s down-to-earth business style has led to an apparently solid foundation for the firm.We have zero debt and are profitable, Caisse said. Scott and I strike a good balance. We’ve taken risks when we needed to and have been conservative when we needed to.The open unstructured office reflects the small degree of hierarchy found in the firm, Caisse said.That structure has to change as we grow, but we don’t want to lose the fun, Caisse said.Caisse said Web-X has grown slowly with no venture capital, though there have been investments of resources, not cash, by firms such as Powerscourt that provided office space and bandwidth, and individuals like Mitch Ratcliffe, who has worked as a consultant and advisor for the firm.Caisse said he hopes to increase the staff at Web-X to 30, and revenues by one-third by year-end. The company tripled in size last year, he said, due to recruitment of a couple of solid clients. Now, he said he wants to create a more knowledgeable, well-rounded staff to better support the company’s clientele with marketing and print in addition to web-based applications. Programming will remain the bread and butter of the firm though, Caisse said.One advantage Web-X has had that enables the company to compete, isn’t high-tech at all, Caisse said.The cost of doing business for us here has been extremely low, Caisse said. On bids we can bid $125 an hour for a Java developer and $165 an hour for a senior developer. In San Francisco it would be $225 to $275 an hour.It doesn’t matter where we are, Caisse said. They don’t need to see us.The firm runs its computers using the Linux operating system, Caisse said, because it is more stable than Windows-based systems. Java is used almost exclusively, he said, as a programming language because it is object-oriented, and easier to use in creation of components for applications.The custom applications Web-X creates increases the ease of function for web sites, and reduces the costs of sharing and disseminating information and communications, Caisse said. Facilitating information interchange so that people can easily get data is a prime function of the firm’s applications, he said.We write most of our code and innovate our own utilities, Caisse said. One hundred percent of our clients come to us when no software does what they want it to, or not in the way they want it to.So, what lies ahead for this Tacoma firm? Caisse is not certain which road the firm will take as it continues to grow.There’s going to be a consolidation in the industry in the next 18 months, Caisse said. This year alone, we’ve had five offers to acquire the company. We haven’t found the right partner, and we’re not ready yet for what we want. We’re still in the adolescent stage.Caisse listed a long list of Web-based businesses going through hard times, and noted the Web has attracted early adopters of the technology. A shakeout is in store, he said, with a high attrition rate. The end result though, he said, will be more solid infrastructures backing dot.com firms. He predicted a second, more stable round of dot.coms will begin emerging in late summer and fall.And what about Caisse’s future?I’m 26, Caisse said, a grin emerging. I’m ready to retire.”