Scour the Twin Cities for Web site developers, and you’ll find numerous companies offering front-end user experience and creative design or back-end development services. Horizontal Integration is the rare firm that offers both. What’s more, it can supply the IT and creative staffing for companies looking to manage their projects in house.
“By combining three distinct service lines, we not only separate ourselves from our competitors, we can offer a flexible engagement model,” says CEO Sabin Ephrem, who had been a management consultant at Ernst & Young before going out on his own in 1999. “A lot of large corporations need that sophisticated back-end development but don’t want to sacrifice the creative aspect and user experience.”
Horizontal Integration was initially positioned as a Web development company that designed and built turnkey Web sites, but evolved to an a la carte provider in response to customer needs. “The first thing we now do is ask about a customer’s pain points,” says Jeremy Langevin, executive vice president of sales and marketing and former business development manager at TEKsystems, a technology staffing firm. “Together with the customer, we determine whether it’s better for us to take ownership of a project from start to finish or whether we should just supply them with the pieces they’re missing.”
The partners believe their varied professional backgrounds and skill sets allow Horizontal to design, deliver, and implement integrated solutions. “In the beginning, there was a lot of healthy debate among the three of us,” says Chris Staley, executive vice president of interactive marketing practice and a former account executive at McCann Relationship Marketing. “We’ve all become multi-disciplined as a result of our varied backgrounds.”
The Horizontal Integration story started in 2003 when Ephrem won a project with McCann to help Microsoft build a marketing automation platform. Ephrem called Langevin to supply him with a tech support team. At McCann’s Seattle office, Ephrem was paired with Staley, who was managing the project’s design and business strategy. As Ephrem and Staley flew back to Minneapolis after a weekly Seattle meeting, they discussed how ad agencies excel with strategy and creative but struggle with technology, and how IT companies were skilled at execution but lacked business discipline and interest in the user experience. It was a proverbial light bulb moment. In early 2006, Langevin came on board as the firm’s third partner.
A point of difference for the company is follow-through. “A lot of big ideas coming from ad agencies get watered down because they can’t be executed as designed all the way into enterprise technology architecture,” Staley says. “We make sure that a big idea is still a big idea the day it goes live.”
Horizontal’s ability to deliver end-to-end solutions has been recognized by the marketplace. “Saying that Horizontal Integration redesigned our recruitment portal is a real understatement,” says a marketing director for a Fortune 50 health care company that has been a longtime Horizontal Integration customer. “I told them our vision and they brought their brains to the table; they’re not just order takers. They asked questions I hadn’t thought about and at times challenged me, appropriately and respectfully. We’ve gone back to them with additional significant projects. We trust them, they execute our vision in a way that is compliant with our very strict IT parameters, and the end result is always exceptional.”
These days, Horizontal’s most pressing initiative is hiring ahead of the curve. “We’ve embraced the notion of hiring talent when we find it and creating opportunities for that talent,” Langevin says.
Employees: 210 (permanent and contract)
2011 revenue: $20 million–plus (est.)