Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=177538
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 9:11:03 PM CST
Few companies can claim to be truly recession-proof, but Web developer KeyLimeTie LLC comes close. The small business, started by CEO Chris Pautsch in 2007 in one small office with two desks, has grown to 37 employees and more than 150 clients despite the recession that began that same year.
Pautsch and his brother formed the full-service software provider after each left a previous job, hiring a third employee just a few weeks later. Since then, the company has grown by an employee every month or two, with 12 new employees hired in the last year alone. The growth has taxed the company in some unexpected ways.
In addition to moving from a shared space to its own suite in a Downers Grove technology park in September 2008, the company had to upgrade infrastructure. “Our phone system only handled 25 employees, so we had to go and buy an extension on our phone system,” said Pautsch, “you know, it’s one of those growing pain things.”
The growth has been stimulated by a wide variety of clients, from national insurer Allstate Corp. to Naperville Running Co., a local athletic retailer, many of which already had a relationship with the brothers from their previous jobs.
KeyLimeTie now offers clients a range of services from traditional websites to mobile applications to search engine optimization. The company has eight regular clients for whom it manages the day to day operations of their website or mobile app. Over the four years it has been in business, it has served around 150 clients total, with many returning periodically for upgrades to their sites.
A recent project was the Lava lamp app for the iPhone. Elmhurst, Ill.-based Lava Lite LLC owns the patent on the Lava lamp, but other companies had produced unauthorized apps featuring its trademark product. To combat the infringement, the company decided to develop an app of its own.
When CEO Dale Zalusky arrived at Lava Lite in May 2010, the project was already in the works. KeyLimeTie had pitched an idea for the app to allow a user to pick the colors of their Lava lamp and post their creations to Facebook and Twitter. Impressed with KeyLimeTie’s commitment to the project, Zalusky green-lighted the app on his second day on the job.
“It was very important in my eyes that we show that Lava Lite is very 2010, as opposed to being old, nostalgic, and hippie-like,” said Zalusky.
What would set the app apart, Zalusky hoped, would be the realistic lava flow in the lamps. Getting the lava to look just right in the physical lamp is a matter of a simple chemical formula, Zalusky said, but a complex algorithm governs the on-screen lava. The completion and the release of the app involved quite a bit of back and forth. “I wasn’t in a rush. It had to be right before it came out,” said Zalusky.
For KeyLimeTie’s Chris Pautsch, the interactivity was key to the app’s appeal. “If you’re going to make an investment in a mobile app, why not build something that’s going to be sticky, that’s going to get people coming back to it,” he said. The app allows KeyLimeTie to record data on the type of Lava lamps that users post on Facebook and Twitter. Pautsch hopes that in the future, this data may help drive product development at Lava Lite.
In the end, Lava Lite was very happy with how the app turned out. “It came out, in a lot of ways, better than I’d envisioned in the beginning,” Zalusky said.
For Zalusky, the app is the beginning of an ongoing relationship between KeyLimeTie and Lava Lite. He’s looking forward to an upcoming housewares industry trade show, and wants KeyLimeTie to develop an app to help in marketing his products.
A continuing relationship with clients is exactly what Pautsch is selling. “We have a personal commitment to our clients” that bigger firms can’t offer, he asserted.
KeyLimeTie’s business comes primarily through word of mouth, either directly from a previous client or from branding on websites and applications the company has created. In the early days, the new business coming in allowed the firm to hire around one employee per month. Currently, Pautsch is looking for two. “As soon as we fill a position, there is another opening almost right away,” he said.
The company’s revenues grew 36 percent from $2.8 million in 2009 to $3.8 million in 2010. Pautsch cites websites and mobile applications as KeyLimeTie’s primary strengths.
Before starting KeyLimeTie, Pautsch worked for 15 years at a consulting company he founded. From that experience, he brought a list of clients already familiar with his work, and a philosophy on naming his new company.
He had named that earlier company “Consultus” because he thought it was good to have a name that described what you did. But then he started noticing companies coming into the industry with unique names that didn’t have anything to do with their function. And he noticed that clients reacted favorably to quirky names.
“It became apparent that you had to have a name that just resonated with people,” he said.
When it came time to name the new company, he called up his brother who had registered 50 or 60 domain names early in the decade. “It was the first name on the list that jumped out at me,” Pautsch said. He quickly incorporated and designed a logo – a tie with gray and lime green stripes.
“Every client asks us for the story, and there really isn’t a good one,” said Pautsch. “We’re thinking about having a quarterly contest where we’ll come up with some off-the-wall story, and that becomes the story for at least the quarter, maybe the year.”