Take a seat beside the master

Viant's success as a web integrator in a field dominated by failure.
Written by Joseph C. Panettieri, Contributor

While most web integrators are swimming in pools of red ink, Viant is riding a tidal wave of profits. But you wouldn't know it by looking at the company's recent performance on Wall Street. Just like many of its rivals, Viant's stock is down sharply since January because investors are wary of the Web integrator sector.

We're not in the business of recommending stocks, but we can safely say that Viant remains an ideal target for potential partners and job hunters who want to latch on to a profitable, fast-growing consulting firm.

Founded in 1996, Viant recommends and builds Internet solutions for Global 1000 customers. Major clients include Compaq Computer and RadioShack.

Viant CEO Bob Gett has a knack for anticipating customer needs. Gett served as CIO of two Fortune 100 companies and has been in the IT game for more than 25 years, most recently as president of Cambridge Technology Partners.

Viant has big rivals, but the company has taken strategic steps to stand out from the crowd. First, it has grown organically—rather than embarking on a risky buying binge. Moreover, Viant has secured funding without selling its soul to platform-specific vendors, which increasingly hold financial stakes in Web integrators.

Why Buy? While rivals like March-First are busy digesting mergers and acquisitions, Viant has avoided that temptation.

"There are those [companies] that have a roll-up strategy, but we don't necessarily believe that's the way to go," says Paul Michaud, who heads Viant's New York office. "We're not blind to acquisitions, but each opportunity we considered wasn't strategic enough [for us to pursue]."

Instead of securing talent through acquisition, Viant focuses on recruiting, assimilating and retaining top minds worldwide. Company managers are trained to conduct job interviews, which always are performed on Fridays. Using this approach, Viant's staff always knows when more recruits will be walking through the front door.

Once Viant lands a new employee, the person tends to stay for the long haul. Viant's payroll has grown from 213 staffers in early 1999 to 600-plus today. The company's turnover rate is about 15 percent annually—well below the 20 percent industry average. Michaud, for instance, joined Viant in 1996 as employee No. 12.

Stay The Course Loyal employees have seen Viant through some high-risk times. Until very recently, the company was far too dependent on a handful of customers. Indeed, Viant's top five clients accounted for a whopping 65 percent of revenue in Q1 1999. If any of those relationships had turned sour, Viant's growth strategy would have gone down the drain. But by Q1 2000, Viant had successfully diversified its revenue stream, with only 37 percent of revenue coming from the company's top five customers, according to a recent SEC filing.

How did Viant broaden its customer base? The answer is location, location, location. The company had about four offices when it went public in 1999. Today, Viant has 11 sites, with new offices recently opened in Munich and Silicon Valley. Additional targets include Europe, though Viant declines to discuss exactly where it will set up shop next.

Viant's global expansion hasn't robbed the company's coffers. The company has about $178 million in cash reserves, according to a recent SEC filing. And with only about 15 percent of revenue coming from dot-com customers, Viant has little exposure to the current e-tailer shakeout.

Don't Play Favorites Sources say several vendors have attempted to buy stakes in Viant, but the Web integrator has respectfully declined the offers.

"Our customer is not the vendor," says Viant's Michaud. "It's the Global 1000 customer. That's why we're agnostic; vendors don't have a stake in us."

This vendor-neutral approach allows Viant to study and deploy emerging technologies without outside pressure from major hardware and software players. So far, the strategy appears to be working.

Rap Sheet Company: Viant Corp.
Web: www.viant.com
Specialty: Internet professional services
Strengths: Very profitable; loyal employees; seasoned management; no vendor bias
Challenges: Depressed stock could harm morale; fixed-time, fixed-price model has high-pressure deadlines
Founded: 1996
HQ: Boston, Mass.
New offices: Mountain View, Calif.; Los Angeles; Houston; Munich
Employees: 600-plus
Open positions: N/A
Employment info: http://viant.com/jobs
Top brass: Bob Gett, president and CEO; Tim Andrews, CTO; Richard J. Chavez, chief strategy officer
Key Partners: Cognizant Technology Solutions, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, Loudcloud
Major customers: American Express, Compaq, RadioShack, Sears

Spot Check

Viant's rock-solid financial performance over the last year makes it a coveted partner and a highly respected employer. The company's payroll has grown from 200 to 600 employees in less than two years. Along the way, Viant has managed to grow profits and diversify its revenue stream—while most rivals remain in the red.

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