Jeff Freidman likes to toss around a ball and ideas during company planning meetings. Most days he cups his trusty weathered baseball as he talks strategy or mingles with staff in the South Euclid offices of Webtego Internet Solutions.
Friedman boots up his laptop in his office, decorated with movie posters reflecting a collection of Gen X-era films - think the Coen brothers meet John Hughes - while the company's executive saleswoman jokes about how corporate she looks in her sweatshirt.
Before you roll your eyes, know this: This is not a dot-com startup.
Yes, Friedman and his business partner, Pete Rice, started the company as twenty somethings on a shoestring budget in Friedman's Cleveland Heights apartment in 1996. Yes, they worked doggedly to launch their young Internet business. Yes, they still embrace a casual work environment.
But the duo did not fall prey to the dot-com business practices that today seem so surreal.
Friedman and Rice, now in their 30s, had no illusions of becoming million-aries in six months. Rather, they grew slowly into a five person Web-development company that now averages 15 new clients a year.
They did not blow through millions of dollars of venture capital without having a tangible business plan. In fact, they did not use an VC. Instead, they put their revenue back into the company and even adopted "We Build Business" as their motto.
In many ways, their utilitarian approach mirrors the general adoption of the Web within Northeast Ohio's business community. Since the region didn't get caught up in the dot-com fever that swept the coasts, it has not suffered the same backlash. Because the regions economic strengths --manufacturing, service and health care - are conservative by nature, they are not the types of industries that traditionally spend wildly on the Web.
For the region's Web and information technology (IT) community, this has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because there remains a largely untapped market, especially in manufacturing related businesses. A curse because they have even a tougher sell after the dot-com shakeout.
Still, local Web designers, developers and IT professionals are generally optimistic about industry growth in 2003. Many Web-based applications are evolving into a functional tool of commerce. Tech leaders say it is just a matte of time before the rest of the Northeast Ohio business community catches up - or before their customers move on to competitors with better online services.
The foosball tables are gathering dust as the dot-corn days of overexuberance and excess are over. But the industry's growing pains may have shaken out at the right time for Northeast Ohio businessess to take advantage of the latest technology.
"That first step we took [on the Web] is now paying off. Now let's take the other step, instead of jumping into it with everything you have," says Paul Elliott, president of the Cleveland chapter of the Association of Internet Professionals. "I think that's a better model for Cleveland."
The Web is experiencing more of a redirection than a comeback, says Friedman, chief operating officer of Webtego. "I think very early on, companies were putting out very, very good-looking, expensive brochure sites that had good information, but there was kind of a 'build it and they will come' …