Sometimes, a big job can change the direction of your company.
Consider Stickboy Creative, a Fort Myers-based firm that helps growing companies manage their information technology challenges. Initially, founder Matt Bernhardt formed the company in 2007 with his wife, Reema Bhatia, to design websites for corporate clients.
But in 2010, the couple started a website called CouponsIwant.com after they successfully tested it in the Fort Myers area. “This was an idea, so we stopped taking outside work,” says Bernhardt. “It was almost stupid, looking back.”
The coupon site was an instant success in Southwest Florida because within a few months they had collected 30,000 email addresses from people who wanted to receive coupons from specific retailers.
But the cost of developing the site and hiring sales people exceeded revenues. “It was losing money,” Bernhardt says. “Our funds were running pretty low.”
So in 2011, Stickboy Creative sold the coupon website and chalked up the project as a lesson in how to build a large-scale system. “That allowed us to build large systems for other companies,” Bernhardt says.
On April 2, the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership awarded its “Innovention” Award to Stickboy Creative at a gala dinner attended by more than 160 technology executives in Fort Myers.
Today, a dozen Stickboy technology experts work with 15 to 18 corporate clients at any given time. Generally, clients are growing companies that need more efficient technology to handle the various computer systems they've acquired and cobbled together over the years. Projects are usually long-term assignments for which Stickboy charges from $25,000 to $250,000, depending on the scope of work. “They can last four months to a year,” says Bhatia.
Only 10% of Stickboy's work today is simply building a website. “We're able to pick clients we work with,” Bhatia says.
What's more, companies want to move everything to remote servers in what's called “cloud” technology. “Everybody's asking for it because they want to access remotely,” Bhatia says, noting that clients no longer want any information to remain on desktop computers.
In addition, access to applications on the cloud is device agnostic and it's backed up regularly. “We're not limited by the hardware,” Bhatia says. “Everybody is going the cloud route.”
While Bernhardt declines to share revenues, he says sales rose 92% last year and they're up 64% in the first quarter. “We're constantly scouting local talent,” says Bernhardt, who nevertheless says he's careful not to hire until he's sure there's enough work.
Because Fort Myers has never been a big high-tech area, Bhatia says there's not as much competition as there is in larger cities. “There really is a very big need,” she says.
Meanwhile, Stickboy is working on a project of its own called Vectra. It's an online application for promotional-product companies to sell mugs, hats, shirts and signs. Vectra will let customers of these companies design their own promotional products using a Web application.
Bernhardt estimates there are thousands of promotional-product companies, many of them operated by individual entrepreneurs. Vectra will cost $3,000 to $5,000 to set up and about a $197 monthly fee.
Although Stickboy lands most of its clients by referral, it has an unusual name that's easy to remember. Bernhardt says Stickboy was the nickname his father's golfing buddies gave him when he was a slim young man.
But in case you forget it, it's tattooed on Bernhardt's right arm, courtesy of a spring break adventure at the Lani Kai Island Resort on Fort Myers Beach.
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss