news / press room

Web firm focuses on back end technology

by Kyle Schliesman
Inside Tucson Business

In a world where dotcoms are flying and dying faster than they can be counted, back end stability often equates to survival. Local Web-developing firm Ephibian addresses that challenge, offering businesses life-support tools and database system solutions.

Ephibian was founded by five technical problem solvers: Teri Spencer, CEO; Lee LeClair, CTO; Phil Holton, COO; Martin Christeson, who now owns his own consulting business in Europe; and Jeff Hustad, who now works for Europe Online.

The five founders of the company started out working for the U.S. Army at Fort Huachuca as civil servants. After rolling out a large system for the Army, the group drew some attention from national vendors and soon found an entrepreneur ready to back a new business venture.

The company is owned by Swede Jan Stenbeck, who runs the Stenbeck Group, a multinational conglomerate that owns 250 companies throughout Europe and the United States. Part of Ephibian’s stability comes from remaining privately held.

“Companies that have to answer to the public market have to show not only growth, but percentage growth better than last year,” said Henry Guy, Ephibian CFO. “We don’t have to do that, and we have no aspirations to be a publicly traded company, ever.”

Officially founding the company in 1996, the five founders decided to relocate from Sierra Vista to the big city, Tucson, and named their venture Isis2000. Isis stood for Integrated Systems and Internet Solutions, but the domain name was already taken, so the founders attached 2000. They assumed that if they were still in business in Y2K, they could change the name.

Four years later, the company was not only running strong, but growing substantially. 1999 saw the company turn a considerable profit, according to Guy, who also reports record sales for 2000.

New times called for a new name, and the company made that switch earlier this year to Ephibian, a cross between evolution and amphibian, a creature capable of surviving both on- and off-line.

Spencer, LeClair, Holton and Guy are the only upper management in the company, and the four collaborate on all major decisions. With only four people at the top, all with an eye on every project, decisions come quickly. It also helps that Ephibian meets very specific client needs.

“We have a very tight focus,” said Guy, “the background development of Web sites... that back-end technology that really makes a site run.”

Whereas a full-service firm consults on strategy and technology, Ephibian only works on the back-end technology, the database supported systems that make the e-world go round.
Among the major deals recently penned by Ephibian is a project for AOL, designing and implementing a Web-based tool for use internally.

Ephibian also built up the back-end technology for Get2Net, which offers public Internet access through kiosks at airports across the country.

The company also designed a network management tool for eBay, a more stable system for the large European portal, and did numerous other projects for Union Bank of California, American Honda and Team Fuel.

While Ephibian works with about 20 clients at one time, very few have been from Tucson. Most of Ephibian’s projects have come from Phoenix, the Silicon Valley and Europe, but local business is starting to pick up.

The company is still based in Tucson, with a major East Coast office in Boston and several smaller offices dotting the nation. Plans are under way for a third major office in Phoenix.

Ephibian’s headquarters are located in the 5151 building on Broadway, which the company has called home since 1997. Included in the office space is a laboratory, where all solutions are built and tested before being shipped to the client. Ephibian also co locates and hosts Web sites for some of its clients.

Part of what anchors Ephibian to this area is its connection to the University of Arizona.
Spencer, LeClair and Holton are each UA graduates and fully half of Ephibian’s recruiting is done at UA, where the company is well respected.

The company employs 60 people and expects to hire 20 more over the next year. A full half of those new hires will likely be from UA.

Tucson has also benefitted Ephibian as an ideal home for employees. In rating job satisfaction, company employees averaged 4.7 out of 5.

“Our people love it here,” said Guy. “We’re a great source of employment, and we’re putting a lot back into the community by hiring a lot of people from UA. We’re living the good life in Tucson and we like it that way.”