"I called other Web designers and got prices of between $800 and $1,200," said Irwin, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. "I had heard about Exxia.Net, and when I called them, they were right within my means."
When Roberto Samayoa founded Exxia.Net in 1998, he envisioned creating an online business directory for Broward County, a sort of localized Google.com that would allow consumers to, for example, enter their ZIP code and the word "doughnut" and obtain a list of doughnut shops in their neighborhood. Each business that signed onto the concept was to receive a one-page Web-based advertisement.
"We had a hard time getting businesses for the directory," said the 31-year-old entrepreneur, "All they were interested in at that point was to have a Web site."
So Samayoa segued into the Web site design business. And by 2002, he was so busy designing sites that he brought in a partner, Todd Weidert to help handle the workload. Although the two design sites for all types and sizes of businesses, they realized that a market opportunity existed for a company willing to design Web sites for businesses on a budget.
"Most Web designers are expensive and overpriced," Samayoa said. "So we thought rather than overcharging the customer at the beginning and making, say, $1,000, let's keep them as a lifelong customer and maybe make $10,000 off them over time by charging what should be right."
The average Web site Exxia handles costs about $1,500 to design, Samayoa said, although the firm designs sites costing from $45 to $20,000. It recently completed a site for Fish, a new seafood restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. The cost: $1,600, which included all the photography.
Samayoa said that most of Exxia's customers come by way of referrals, although he sends out direct mail offers to newly formed businesses as well. The company now has about 100 regular customers, for which Exxia provides Web hosting and other services such as networking and commercial photography.
Although customer growth has been steady with an additional five or six new customers each month, Samayoa did have a hurdle to overcome early in the company's life. "It took us about a year to find a company to host our servers that wasn't so expensive that we couldn't make a profit," he said. "It really was a challenge to find someone that would charge us less but still be reliable."
Exxia's big test came during Hurricane Wilma. All of its customers' Web sites remained up and running throughout the storm, thanks to its choice of a hosting company in Miami that had a generator and enough gasoline to run it for 37 days, if necessary.
Samayoa feels good that he can grow a business and make money while providing services desperately needed by many small businesses.
"We've created a business model that allows us to charge less than anyone else and still make a profit," he said. "But the main idea is to really give other entrepreneurs a chance to put most of their money back into their businesses rather than into their Web site."
Business: Web site design and hosting
Owners: Roberto Samayoa and Todd Weidert
Advice: "As a small business, you're going to have a lot of doors closed to you, but don't give up. Keep trying, because from failure to success may be just one more try away."