Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Vokal rides the mobile wave to strong growth

Vokal rides the mobile wave to strong growth

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Reid Lappin
Reid Lappin
The massive surge in smartphone usage for everything from e-commerce to social media is creating a boom for software-development shops that build websites and mobile apps.
Vokal Interactive expects to roughly double again this year, repeating a similar increase from 2014. CEO Reid Lappin, who founded the Chicago-based tech company five years ago, expects Vokal,which employs about 70, likely will add about 60 more workers this year. Vokal recently moved into a 15,000-square-foot space in River North—its fifth location in as many years.
Demand for mobile websites to handle e-commerce and internal apps is giving companies such as Vokal a big boost. Solstice Mobile recently was acquired for $25 million.

Devbridge Group, another mobile and web developer, plans to triple its space next month, moving into 12,500 square feet at 343 W. Erie St. in River North. The company employs 30 in Chicago and 130 worldwide, and it expects headcount to grow sharply to 50 locally and 190 by year-end. Total staff is likely to double next year, said President Aurimas Adomavicius.
Lappin says he expects Vokal's revenue to double this year to about $12 million. Among its clients are W.W. Grainger and Exelon, and it recently opened a small office in San Francisco, where its customers include the 49ers football team. (Full disclosure: Vokal recently did work for Crain's.) Lappin says the company is moving from project-based app development to more retainer-based work that involves strategy as well.
The company recently added Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871 and a longtime startup backer, and Seton Corp. founder Michael Miles as investors and board members.
Mobile firms face a huge challenge in finding talent. Bodies are scarce, and prices continue to rise. Vokal launched a sister company called Mobile Makers that offers eight-week, full-time training classes in Chicago and San Francisco to teach people the basics of mobile development for $9,000 to $11,000. So far, it has taught 500 students, but only a handful have been hired by Vokal.

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