New York-based Usablenet is the largest provider of mobile and multiplatform services for brands, powering the mobile presences of 75 of the top 300 retailers–so why have we never heard of them?
Usablenet was founded way back in the dark ages, after the 90’s dotcom boom but far before the current one, in 2000. Its original business was focused on making websites more accessible for the visually impaired, which typically boiled down to translating complicated website designs into sleeker, simpler formats that were easier to read. But when smartphones began their prodigious rise, Usablenet wised up quick and used what they’d learned from making websites for the visually impaired to begin building simple mobile sites for clients. They began doing so as early as 2006–way before ‘mobile’ became a buzzword–with just a three person team situated in a 6th-floor walkup on the Lower East Side.
In the past five years, Usablenet has seen tremendous growth. The company has grown from that tiny downtown walkup to one of the largest providers of mobile and tablet device sites in the country.
“We’re now at around 350 employees and in the region of 300 mobile and multichannel clients, but our goal is to be at 1,000 clients and 1,000 employees in the next three years,” Jason Taylor, Usablenet’s head of innovation and platform strategy, told Betabeat by phone. “In the last couple of years we’ve been doing not just mobile, but things like Facebook apps, kiosk apps, tablet apps; the explosion of the devices that the consumer has in their hands beyond just a mobile smartphone is also driving our growth.”
Any time a new device comes out–like a new tablet or smartphone–brands want to support the consumer on that device, said Mr. Taylor. The Usablenet platform helps translate the sites of brands like Victoria’s Secret, Expedia and Dell into beautiful sites or apps that fit the device requirements of smartphones and tablets.
“That’s really what our platform is about,” said Mr. Taylor. “Providing it to our clients so we can power the different versions of their mobile sites or apps for all the different devices that come out for market.”
The company is now far from having to work out of a small downtown office space. They moved up and uptown, to an office in the trendy Flatiron district, where they handle mobile development for 25 percent of all Fortune 1,000 brands.
So why haven’t we heard of them?
“We’re very much a client-led company, which means that we’re focused on communicating and gaining a client base,” said Mr. Taylor. “We focused a lot on going directly after clients, talking directly with clients to secure them. We don’t do a lot of partnership stuff, we have a direct sales channel so we don’t work through third parties to reach clients.”
The other reason is that though Usablenet powers some of the most visible mobile sites in the country, they’re a technology business behind what the consumer is using, so they’re rarely recognized. “If you took a day in the life of an average business traveler or consumer, they’d probably be using a number of our sites on a daily basis,” said Mr. Taylor. “In New York, we power the NYC metro mobile sites; if you want to take a flight on Delta, we power Delta; same with Amtrak.”
Mr. Taylor also stresses that Usablenet doesn’t just want to be a one-off company that can be gobbled up by a bigger brand. Usablenet is privately owned and has never taken funding, he said. They took their time building the business from the ground up, “one happy client at a time.”
“We’re not this sort of nichey, piped-up environment,” he said. “We’re not looking to be purchased. We’re looking to become a company like IBM and Oracle, not just a flash-in-the-pan company that gets purchased. We want a company that has healthy business, so we can say to our clients, ‘We will be here not just next week, but we’ll be here in five years’ time.'”
Mr. Taylor said that Usablenet currently has offices in New York, Los Angeles, London and Italy, and intends to expand to Asia and Brazil by year’s end.