The Washington Diplomat / April 2002
By Larry Luxner
In a world of shaky high-tech startups and failing dot-coms, BrowserMedia stands out as a survivor that appears to live up to its promises of innovation and reliability.
Only four years after its founding, the Bethesda-based company already has 27 full-time and part-time employees, and annual revenues of $2.5 million.
At its head is Kerry Gunther, a 28-year-old who studied computer science at the University of Maryland. He founded the company in February 1998, just as the Internet began seeing explosive growth.
"I had worked at a number of Internet companies during and after college," Gunther said in a recent interview. "Then, at some point, I had gained enough contacts in terms of clients and like-minded developers to start branching out on my own. I made the plunge and started BrowserMedia with a pool of contractors that I had been working with over the years, to allow me to tackle front-end projects and outsource the pieces as needed. My idea was to be the central point that brought it all together and delivered it to the client."
In its short existence, BrowserMedia has attracted 150 such clients, ranging from the World Shipping Council and the U.S. Grains Association to Junior Achievement and the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.
BrowserMedia's biggest client, by far, is Buy Domains.com. The company, whose website at www.buydomains.com gets around 200,000 unique visitors, or one million "hits," a day, buys up lucrative domain names and then sells them to prospective businesses. Its owner, Michael Mann, was an early investor in BrowserMedia.
In the diplomatic arena, Gunther's most important client is the French Embassy, whose revamped website at www.ambafrance-us.org was launched in mid-February. The site features an online version of France Magazine, as well as breaking news headlines and information on tourist attractions, visas and other embassy services.
"We went up against a few other bidders, and basically we won," said Gunther. "We worked with them and provided the building blocks, and they provided the content. In terms of number of pages, it's one of the biggest sites we've ever worked on."
BrowserMedia has also designed websites for the Republican National Committee (www.gop.org) and the New York Biotechnology Association (www.nyba.org) as well as for specialized companies like online stock photo agency Luxner News Inc., (www.luxner.com) and LightWave Communications (www.lightwavecomm.net), an optical telecom firm based in Laurel, Md.
"We also have a lot of brick-and-mortar companies, such as Chevy Chase Land Co., a commercial real-estate company that's over 100 years old," he said. "They came to us because they needed help with their website," he said, adding that "we try to host most of the sites we develop, not because it's a moneymaker but it makes it easier to maintain and develop when we're doing it on our own servers."
Whether or not your company needs a website isn't even an issue anymore, he said; not having one is like not having a telephone these days.
"But if you have one that's really amateurish, it's like a handwritten business card," said Gunther. "A website is not just about pretty pictures. It's what you can do in terms of enhancing your service offerings. At this point, most companies have a website, but it's not professional or they're not using it for any purpose. There's no e-commerce going on, or if it's an association, there's no database that's useful for their members."
Where BrowserMedia makes its money is in building quality websites. Last year, it won kudos from Washington Business Forward, which named BrowserMedia as "the local Web design firm and e-business solutions provider that got the highest marks from our readers, who noted the company's attentive nature, great communications skills and timely delivery of projects."
Says Gunther: "What we've found recently is that people are coming to us, complaining that their current website company has either gone out of business or has been unresponsive. Someone has an idea for an online business, he finds a freelance programmer and then that guy dispappears. He's got a day job, or maybe it's over his head."
BrowserMedia charges a basic fee of $100 an hour for front-end work (this includes html programming and web design) and $150 an hour for "back-end" work (database management or custom programming).
"We build a detailed spec and do it on a project basis," says Gunther. "We can structure things so it's hourly, but most people prefer a flat fee so they know exactly how much it's going to cost.
Gunther, a Washington native, said he used his own money and built the business off of revenues.
"We didn't go out and get venture capital, so we don't have to support $300 an hour rates," he said. "The only ones we answer to are our clients and our bottom line."
Profits last year came to "several hundred thousand dollars," said Gunther, who adds that he has no interest in taking BrowserMedia public.
"When I started the business, it was just me and some independent contractors. I later saved up enough money to hire people full-time," he said, noting that his first employees were programmer Ann Rauscher and website designer Michael Benson -- both of whom are still with the company.
"The advantage with us," says Gunther, "is that we're not going anywhere, that you can reach us and that we've got enough people who specialize in each area to cover the whole kit and caboodle."
For more information on BrowserMedia, call Gunther at (301) 656-1144, e-mail him at email@example.com, or visit the company website at www.browsermedia.com.