Back in ancient times — before TV, that is — the phone company was the Internet, and the Yellow Pages functioned as Google. To get noticed, you bought a full-page ad or leap-frogged the competition alphabetically, by changing your name.
Thus was born a generation of companies titled “AAA” — arguably, the first search engine optimizers.
Today, Google guards its search engine algorithms the way KFC protects its 11 herbs and spices, and to get noticed on the Internet requires more than an “A” in your name. Also, the stakes — being listed not to a city but the world — were never greater.
And the job of influencing those Google searches could be the future of downtown Syracuse. Yes, you read correctly: This is an Internet story — not from Berkeley or Boston, but Syracuse. Downtown Syracuse.
There, an 11-year-old company, Terakeet Corp., has tripled its work force in three years, expanding its national footprint and crystallizing the urban renaissance fantasies that have been touted for decades by local political and business leaders.
In Armory Square, the company’s 33-year-old co-founder says the growth is just beginning.
“It may sound crazy,” chief executive officer MacLaren Cummings said recently. “But I think that we have the capability, if we make the right steps, to make this a billion dollar company in the next five to 10 years.”
Billion. Ten years. Crazy, or what?
Three years ago, the company had nine employees. Now, it has 32, estimated revenues in the tens of millions and an A-list of national clients, such as Coca-Cola Co., American Express Co., NBC Universal-Orlando and General Electric Co.
Plus, it has friends in high places. Really high places.
Four years ago, Cummings carved out a reputation as the search engine guru who helped transform Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign website into a fund-raising powerhouse. He signed on for a three-day stint. That lasted several months, working without compensation. After Clinton left the race, Cummings was snapped up by the Obama campaign, again footing his own bills.
He’s been called back to work for the president’s re-election, consulting in a campaign whose total cost could hit more than $1 billion.
Nevertheless, Cummings says his work for Obama won’t pay off in dollars, but in business contacts. Be they Republican or Democratic, captains of industry generally figure the guy who helps run a presidential campaign website knows what he’s doing.
“There is a certain prestige involved with being part of a political campaign, especially one that is regarded as highly technical,” said Cummings, a Tully native who attended Manlius-Pebble Hill High School and graduated from Cornell University in 2001. “There is a certain sizzle factor with potential customers. … The fact that a campaign of that magnitude would hire a firm like ours, I think, says something.”
On South Clinton Street, Terakeet quietly has expanded to take up two stories of the Neal and Hyde Building, which is mostly known for its ground floor, the Syracuse Suds Factory. But within the area business community, the company’s profile has soared.
“It’s part of the foundation for our future growth,” said Rob Simpson, president of the Center State Corp. for Economic Opportunity, a regional business organization. “You have a young entrepreneur who started here and is growing his business here. … They’re growing and expanding, doing everything right.”