news / press room

Using the Web for growth

by Alan D. Fischer
Arizona Daily Star

Tucson-based Ephibian Inc. does behind-the-scenes "heavy lifting" for clients' Internet business endeavors.

Ephibian develops software for Internet applications - "back-end technology" - that allows companies like American Honda Motor Co., Inc., AT&T, IBM Tivoli Professional Services and others to use the World Wide Web to grow and profit, said Teri Spencer, president and CEO.

"It's not a problem being behind the scenes," she said. "We enjoy the success of our clients."

The company has succeeded by offering Internet application solutions that are custom designed to meet clients' exact needs, she said.

Henry Guy, the firm's chief financial officer, said the company supplies the "heavy lifting" that allows clients' front end e-commerce, Web site and other Internet operations to work, and work well.

He said his company revises or replaces e-business components for firms that have embraced the Internet but some have found their efforts lacking success.

The key to Ephibian's success is an elite technology staff, Spencer said.

"Bring in a tech problem, and we'll solve it," Spencer said. "We'd put our (software engineers) head to head with anyone in the world."

Guy said the company typically interviews 75 to 100 applicants before finding the perfect fit for a staff opening.

And once the company decides to target a potential employee, Guy said, "We get them. We go all out. We're ruthless."

Being selective has meant the firm has this year "turned down quite a bit of work because we didn't have the people," Guy said, but added that having the right people to ensure customer satisfaction is more important to the company.

And attitude is more important than performance at Ephibian, he said. Workers with a good attitude can be trained, but people with bad attitudes - even good performers - are dumped quickly, he said.

Spencer said the firm's flat organization style - with only four management positions - allows every worker to have a say in what goes on.

Ephibian goes after potential clients with the same fervor it does desired employees. Guy recalled wearing a bright orange T-shirt proclaiming Ephibian's abilities at functions put on by potential clients, or showing up with ice cream for all of a potential client's employees.

Spencer said, "If we focus on someone, we're going to win that contract."

The company was launched by five people in a two-car garage in Sierra Vista, she said. All worked for the Information Systems Engineering Command based at Fort Huachuca, tending to the Army's needs.

The five began the company, then known as ISIS 2000, in August 1996. The launch was backed by $2 million in seed capital from the Stenbeck Group, a Swedish company with 250 subsidiaries worldwide.

After outgrowing the garage, the firm moved to Tucson in February 1997 and occupied a 2,000 square-foot site at 5151 E. Broadway. The company name changed to Ephibian late last year.

As the company grew to its current Tucson staff of 42, it moved to a 10,000 square-foot facility on the 14th floor of 5151 E. Broadway, where windows offer employees expansive views of the Catalina Mountains.

Tucson is Ephibian's headquarters and center for software development for Internet applications, and the company plans to expand the engineering staff here by at least 20 in the next 1 1/2 years. Guy said the the jobs have an average starting salary of

The company also looks to expand its Phoenix operation from eight to 20 workers and offer software development services there.

The company also has small business development offices in San Francisco, New York and Boston, he said.

Ephibian helped bring the Bisbee Unified School District No. 2 into the Information Age, said Christian Blessing, the district's technology coordinator.

The company helped the district wire school campus and administration buildings, set up a local network and e-mail service, and linked classrooms with the World Wide Web.

"They did such a wonderful job installing it," Blessing said, adding the "turnkey operation" was turned over to the district in July 1999.

After the infrastructure was ready the district was "all dressed up with no where to go," he said, and invested in more computers. Bisbee Unified went from an estimated ratio of one computer for every 35 students to an average of one computer for every six students, which is better than state guidelines that recommend a computer for each eight students.

"This just opened up an entirely new world to many of our kids," Blessing said.