Two years ago, Joe Edelman, a photographer in Allentown, Pa, decided he had to do something about all those mobile devices potential customers were using. Because his site had been designed for traditional desktops or laptops, when people came across it using, say, an iPhone or Android, what they saw simply didn’t do his pictures justice. “You’d have to scroll all over to see the whole image,” he says. “You can have a great picture, but if the web site doesn’t look good, the photo will look like crap.”
Then Edelman heard about a new site called iFolios that provided tools for creating mobile versions of web sites automatically. Now, when potential customers view his site from their iPad, he knows they’re seeing a presentation of his photographs at their best, on an easy-to-navigate platform. “If you improve the user experience, you improve the user’s perception of your product,” he says.
Sure, all those mobile devices out there provide a host of benefits. But their widespread proliferation also creates some challenges. One of them: Looking at conventional web sites on a mobile phone can be frustrating. That’s not to mention the fact that iPhones don’t do well with Flash. Or ordering products over an ecommerce site can be cumbersome.
But a number of small businesses have seized on these challenges, turning them into a business opportunity. They’re selling ways with which their customers can create HTML5-enabled mobile versions of existing or new web sites and, in some cases, optimize them for ecommerce capabilities. Here’s a look at four such businesses.
The three-year-old, 15-employee Palo Alto-Calif.-based company, founded by Itai Sadan and Amir Glatt, two long-time friends who worked together at SAP in California and Israel, initially partnered with large companies. Creating tools for customers of those businesses to build mobile-friendly web sites on their own, DudaMobile, integrated its technology into the backend web site creation platform of such companies as Webs.com, Logoworks, and others. More recently, it landed a coup as the exclusive provider of mobile web sites for Google, as part of the search giant’s GoMo initiative.
Last August, DudaMobile introduced a self-service platform directly aimed at small businesses and other professionals. Customers install a plug-in that automatically tells when someone is using a mobile device or they can add simple code to their web site that does the same thing. DudaMobile hosts the site, so it doesn’t sit on the customers’ server. But according to Dennis Mink, chief marketing officer, users still can edit and make changes when they want. There’s also automatic synching of content from one version to the other when changes are made. Cost is free for 10 pages and 500 mb; there’s a monthly fee for unlimited pages and features like click to call widgets.
For ecommerce capabilities, Duda’s approach is to work with platform providers, like eBay ProStores, rather than individual clients. “We don’t do one-off ecommerce sites,” says Mink.
Like other services allowing DIY mobile web optimization, DudaMobile doesn’t create an exact replica of the original. You keep your logo and color scheme. But, says Mink, chief marketing officer, “We take the structure and reorganize it so that the mobile version is easy to browse and read.”
Founded in 2005 in Oslo under a different name and aimed at search technology, the 13-employee company relocated to New York City in 2010, ready to take on the mobile optimization market—and DudaMobile, which, according to CEO Ben Seslija, is its direct competitor.
Sharing most of DudaMobile’s features, bMobilized, also is aimed at small business trying to create mobile optimized versions of existing web sites. There’s no free option, but the monthly fee is similar to DudaMobile’s. If you want more customization, there’s another option, with a startup fee and monthly charges after that.
The company also will turn a mobile site into an ecommerce-friendly version that’s integrated with the customer’s original one; the fee is determined on a case by case basis depending on how complicated it is.
Brian and Grace Robinson started a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based wedding planning publication in 2003. When they sold it around three years ago, they looked around for their next venture. Their decision: Create a service allowing photographers and other artists to build mobile friendly sites that would be recognized automatically from any device. They started iFolios, in 2010 and, says Brian Robinson, “It’s taken off nicely.”
Built on Wordpress, there are an unlimited number of content pages and image galleries, along with such features as click to share. There are one-time fees for a DIY option or full-service version through which iFolios will create the site for the customer in one day. In both cases, unlike both DudaMobile and bMobilized, the service is hosted on the customer’s server. Also, unlike those other two companies, iFolios creates a separate web site dedicated to mobile devices. The result: no automatic syncing when changes are made to the main web site.
Launched in 2007 by four Argentinean web developers, the 25-employee Buenos Aires startup first was aimed at helping professionals and small businesses build web sites from scratch. Early on, Neosites, also partnered with Telefonica, one of the largest telecommunications companies in Latin America, to target smart phone customers.
Then, about a year ago, with more customers using smart phones, the company decided to add a capability creating mobile versions of new web sites. The target market: new businesses, as well as what Brennan Lake, international director, calls “mom and pop stores looking for a web presence.”
More recently, Neosites added ecommerce capabilities, allowing users to create sites through which their customers can buy products, check them out and pay via their mobile devices. Another recent addition: a booking engine, allowing customers to reserve rooms from their phones. Neosites charges a monthly fee, with a more costly option that includes ecommerce capabilities.
The bottom line: Certainly, the proliferation of mobile devices, like any advance in technology, has created unanticipated challenges. But, for savvy startups, they’ve also provided the makings of a potentially lucrative business opportunity.
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