Yottaa and SiteSpect Find Ways to Make Money by Making Websites Faster, More Targeted

These are two startups that aren’t household names in the Boston-area tech scene, but probably should be. One started in 2009, raised venture capital when it was tough to get in the downturn, and is currently adding new features and generating some buzz. The other started five years earlier, in 2004, bootstrapped itself to profitability, and counts among its customers the world’s largest retailer and the world’s largest bank.

One has a geeky, conceptual name that sounds like a small, green Jedi master. The other’s name is more literal and sounds like a Sith lord, if I had to pick a side. (You tell me which is more badass.)

Yottaa and SiteSpect are united by at least one common thread: the desire to make websites run faster. Though the companies are at different stages and have different challenges, they are competitive in the realm of Web performance optimization—software that recodes webpage content to streamline it for browsers. “It’s like scraping barnacles off a boat,” says Eric Hansen, founder and CEO of Boston-based SiteSpect, the elder company.

It’s also a relatively recent product direction for SiteSpect, which has built much of its core business on marketing technologies like A/B testing of website features, behavioral targeting, and mobile content optimization (e.g., iPhone vs. iPad). According to Hansen, who previously founded and ran Worldmachine Technologies, his current company is the only provider of this kind of software that doesn’t require page tags or changes to customers’ existing sites. Its customers include Walmart, Expedia, MTV, MSNBC, Staples, and CSN Stores.

Meanwhile, Cambridge, MA-based Yottaa started just two years ago with the idea of making “every website faster and better,” says founder and CEO Coach Wei, who previously founded Nexaweb Technologies and worked at Hopkinton, MA-based EMC (NYSE: EMC). Yottaa’s customers include mid-sized e-commerce and retail sites (e.g., CSN Stores again), sandwich shops, and Web marketing agencies. All want to monitor and improve the speed of their sites—and track the resulting impact on sales, conversions, and other business metrics.

My first thought was, hasn’t this problem been solved (like in 1999, or 2005)? Apparently the answer is no, if there are at least two companies going after it in Boston. Oh yeah, and last fall, Google’s team in Cambridge also released a free tool for webpage optimization, called mod_pagespeed. So it’s clearly a competitive and somewhat commoditized sector. (In case you’re wondering, companies like Cambridge, MA-based Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM) tackle Web performance at the network level, whereas the newer companies focus on the browser level.)

SiteSpect sees its primary competition coming from Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) (through its acquisitions of Omniture and Offermatica) and U.K.-based Autonomy. While Cambridge-based HubSpot might be seen as somewhat competitive with its recent purchase of Performable (which started out doing A/B testing), Hansen says it’s “not at all” a competitor to SiteSpect. And right now, he says, the firm’s growth is constrained mainly by recruiting. Hansen declined to give any specifics except to say the 40-person company, which moved into a new Boston office last week, has been profitable every year except 2007.

It’s still fairly early days for Yottaa, which raised $4 million from Stata Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners and released its beta product for monitoring website performance last year. Yottaa then rolled out an “optimizer” product this spring that it says can double the speed of your website with “just a few clicks.” The 30-person startup also has an interesting cultural challenge: 25 of its employees are based in Beijing, and the rest are in Cambridge, MA.

“We have to do everything different,” Wei says. Software development approaches such as “agile” and “waterfall” don’t work with such a big time difference and geographical spread, he says. But the company has managed to learn “how to run a team on a global scale,” he says.

So SiteSpect and Yottaa are at quite different stages, but how they fare could go a long way towards determining the future of Web performance and business analytics. That’s because both firms—and presumably many others—are figuring out how to merge website optimization with helping businesses track sales and customer behavior.

“We’re approaching performance not only from the perspective of speed, but from the perspective of business metrics,” Hansen says. “What we see from our customer base is the CFO cares out of an interest in speed, but they get paid to be interested in money.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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