Ten years ago, brothers Zeki and Haroon Mokhtarzada were completing their last year at the University of Maryland, College Park. Zeki studied computer science; Haroon, economics. In their spare time they designed websites for family and friends. But they soon realized that a website-creation tool would be more efficient than creating websites by hand. That’s when they put together a business plan for Freewebs.Click here to view the “History of Webs” infographic!
They each invested $1,000, bought a few servers, stuck the servers in a closet in Zeki’s apartment, and Freewebs was born “to make it easier for people to get nice looking, organized websites,” according to Haroon. The brothers chose their mother as the ideal Webs user: "My mother is a professional and a very intelligent person, but she doesn't have any technical skills...if she could use our Site Builder, most people could," explained Haroon.
“We weren’t even ready to launch.”
Each day, two or three new users signed up with Freewebs. Then something strange happened: a lot more people started signing up. The mystery was solved when Haroon and Zeki found out that their younger brother, Idris—who was only 14—had added Freewebs to dmoz.org, a web directory. “We weren’t even ready to launch,” noted Haroon.
On graduation day in May 2001, Haroon and Zeki checked the number of daily signups from a campus computer lab and found the highest number yet: 34! According to Haroon, the discovery “was so much more exciting than graduation.”
“Let’s give it some love!”
But the business was put on the back burner in 2002 when Zeki began working for the National Institutes of Health and Haroon began studying law at Harvard University. They kept Freewebs going by working on it part-time.
After Haroon graduated from law school he considered his options: “Freewebs was making enough money to pay our salaries, so we said, let’s give it some love.” In 2005 the brothers gave Freewebs their full attention and set out to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams.
Their hard work paid off: in August 2006 they received $11 million in Series A funding from Novak Biddle Venture Partners and Columbia Capital.
Between 2003 and 2007 the company grew 1704%.
In 2008, Webs placed fifth in the Deloitte's prestigious Technology Fast 50 Program for the Greater Washington region. By this point, Webs was getting 20,000 new user signups every day and each month 30 million unique people visited sites created with the Webs Site Builder tool.
“When I hear about the next great web tool, my heart beats with excitement”
2008 was also the year the company rebranded itself by changing its name from “Freewebs” to, simply, “Webs.” It was more than just a name change: “What we did was reinvent what it means to have a website,” Haroon explains. “Visitors needed to be active participants. That was the trend.”
This 2.0 iteration of the Webs platform let site owners create community-driven sites that visitors could join as members. By giving site members the ability to comment on photos, post to a blog, add to a site calendar, and more, a site becomes “more of a living, breathing entity,” notes Haroon.
Innovation is a hallmark of Webs, thanks to Zeki’s technological brilliance, Idris’s talent for information architecture, and Haroon’s on-target business instincts: “When I hear about the next great web tool my heart beats with excitement rather than fear,” Haroon says.
“Because they live inside our platform.”
In November 2009, Webs launched an App Store to make helpful third-party applications available to all Webs users. Some of the most popular apps in the App Store include Web Store, Cafe Press, DudaMobile, Meebo, and Etsy.
Haroon envisioned the Webs App Store as a “one-stop shop” so users “know they can access wikis, get a scheduling service, a web store, all these different things, because they all live inside our platform.”
Zeki saw the App Store from an engineer’s point of view: the new Webs platform was “built with partner applications in mind.” TechCrunch noticed this and reported on it: “The company is adopting a model similar to the Facebook Platform, inviting developers to build applications that users can install on their Webs pages from a central directory.”
The Webs family of products
2010 was the year Webs developed a family of products to give Webs users—and small business owners in particular—easy and cost-effective ways to develop an online presence across web, mobile, and social platforms. The Webs family of products grew to include:
» ContactMe, the first online, lightweight customer relationship management (CRM) tool created exclusively for microbusinesses. “Bigger companies have expensive CRM tools to optimize their workflow,” explains Haroon. “We realized that small business owners needed a similar solution, but one that was much simpler and more economical.”
» Pagemodo, a do-it-yourself Facebook page builder that enables small businesses to design and add new tabs—like a “Welcome” tab—to their Facebook fan pages for free. With Pagemodo’s Pagebuilder, entrepreneurs don’t need to have any technical or design skills to create fresh, stylish Facebook pages that attract visitors and promote their businesses.
But growing its family of products didn’t stop Webs from innovating within the Webs platform in 2010 as well, particularly to give small businesses an edge in the mobile arena:
» The Mobile Websites App lets users create a mobile version of their websites with a single click. The mobile version is optimized for today’s mobile devices, like the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry, and automatically stays in sync with the original site.
» A Webs Redesign in 2010 presented a stylish and more functional version of Webs to the world. The Webs website and the Webs Site Builder were overhauled to make their site-building tools and processes even easier for people to use.
All of this innovation was recognized in July 2010 when Webs was named one of the “Hottest DC Area Companies” by Lead411. The award’s review noted that “Webs is among the top 100 most trafficked websites in the world. The company has tripled its revenues in the past 3 years.”
The Webs family
Webs now has 50 employees and offices in both Silver Spring, Maryland, and Silicon Valley. The Silver Spring office has an open floor plan that facilitates brainstorming and collaboration. Zeki, Haroon, and Idris sit with their teams but often move around the office to answer questions, solve problems, fix bugs, and discuss plans for helping Webs users achieve their own entrepreneurial dreams.
The Webs customer
Artist Bob Krzykowski, creator of the comic Elsie Hooper, is one of Webs’ oldest and most loyal customers.
Bob Krzykowski started the Elsie Hooper comic at the University of Massachusetts and developed a readership of more than 25,000 through the student newspaper. He turned to Webs in May 2003 to create a site that would reach readers who had missed a few installments or who wanted to read the comic’s entire archive online.
Krzykowski’s audience expanded rapidly once he published his Webs site. After starting with a Free website package, Krzykowski upgraded to a Premium site to make his vision—“stark black-and-white, and simple to navigate”—come true.
“I’m one of the least tech-savvy people you’ll ever meet,” Krzykowski said. “But with the Site Builder’s easy-to-use interface, I’ve been able to create a great site that my fans love.”
Krzykowski also used the Webs App Store to add a blog, a photo gallery, a forum, and a web store to his site. Krzykowski put the blog on his site’s homepage and loves that all he has to do is add new posts. The blog and forum help him interact with site members and customers.
As he developed his site, Krzykowski relied on Webs customer support: “When I had questions, I could always chat with someone in the Support Center. My questions were quickly resolved and I felt like you guys were right there with me.”
“Anyone can create a clean, professional-looking website with Webs,” adds Krzykowski.
For Bob Krzykowski, Webs is part of his business success. “I could not have been as successful without Webs. I’ve never had to think about how to develop and maintain my website. Webs makes it easy.”