From Scratch: Aqaba Technologies
It's hard to remember this, but there once was a world before Google was a verb, a world where people actually debated whether the Internet was the next great communications tool – or the next CB radio.
It was in that world that Ramsey Sweis stepped out from behind his engineer's desk at General Motors and into the rapidly changing Internet landscape.
Now, a decade later, he's founder, president and CEO of the search engine optimization firm Aqaba Technologies. The firm provides pay per click management, search engine optimization and custom web development to national clients such as National Geographic, The History Channel, and local companies such as Hampton AutoBeat and Country Club Limousine.
Between the company's headquarters in Sterling Heights and a development center in Pune, India, they employ 38 people. Sweis, who is of Jordanian descent and has traveled widely, says his global perspective has been key to the company's success.
"As dynamic as the industry has become, it's grown into a global mindset," he says.
His interest in technology was triggered nearly 20 years ago when he was working for General Motors. When he began his career there in 1986, all the work was done manually, and he participated in the transition to computer-aided design.
Eventually, he had an opportunity to invest in an Internet service provider called Worldwide Wireless, and eventually became its COO. One of his first major projects was to oversee wireless Internet in Argentina, where he worked closely with that country's version of Yahoo. This sparked his interest in the business model of search engines.
"They were taking free information and charging for sets of eyeballs," he said.
"Understanding the model, we knew Google was going to blow up, that Yahoo was going to blow up. In the early 2000s all those concepts that had great domain names and cool logos just fizzled — Google and Yahoo weathered the storm and were not only pioneers, they are monsters. I knew somehow or another I wanted to be involved in that industry."
He eventually resigned as COO of Worldwide Wireless, while remaining on the board. He moved back to Michigan from San Francisco, and spent some time traveling and considering his options. In 2004, he started Aqaba.
Spinning a Web 2.0
All the company's salespeople, as well as Sweis himself, are certified in Google Ad Words and as Yahoo Search Marketing Ambassadors, which helps them understand how better to optimize search engines to drive Internet users to their client's sites. They also provide services such as web-optimized press releases and technology timeshares.
While he had some immediate success with smaller local companies, Aqaba's first big client was offshore gaming concern VIP.com. Because of Sweis' global experience, another offshore client recommended Aqaba to VIP, and a relationship was born.
"That basically was the shot in the arm we needed, since this was not just a local phenomenon. One account put us on the map."
One longstanding relationship has been with Hampton AutoBeat, which publishes AutoBeat Daily, AutoTech Daily, AutoBeat Europe and AutoBeat Asia. Aqaba updated the first two sites and developed the second.
Paula Doan, vice president of operations for Hampton AutoBeat, says Sweis's expertise helped them take advantage of several Web features that both saved them money and drove readers to the site. For example, invoicing for subscriptions used to cost a great deal of time and money, but thanks to a shopping cart system Sweis added, customers now mange their subscriptions completely online, which reduced greatly what was one of their biggest costs.
"Even though we are considered a print publication, we're sent electronically and most of our work is done in the virtual world," Doan says. "Our websites are incredibly important, and Ramsey has been very helpful with that aspect of the business."
Sweis predicts Aqaba can reach $8 to $10 million revenue within the net three to five years, and hints at some proprietary technology in the pipeline that he says will be an enormous success.
One of the hallmarks of the Internet field is an offbeat name. Aqaba, however, was named for a resort area in Jordan not far from where his father was born. Sweis went scuba diving there on his extended travels while he was formulating the idea for his company, and the scenic beauty made a huge impression on him. The deep blue of the company's website and clear, shimmery look to their logo were inspired by his dive at Aqaba.
"I wanted to name the company something very impactful, something of a memory I would never want to lose," he says. "That was diving in general, and then diving in Aqaba was my most memorable dive."
Of course, the name hit the right notes from a business standpoint as well. "It also sounds high tech," Sweis adds, "hence Aqaba Technologies."
Detroit freelancer Amy Kuras has written about local schools – among a host of other topics –for more than a decade. Her previous article for Metromode was Share The Ride, Share The Pain.
Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.