Making Web surfers stick around

“Everyone’s a comedian” is a common phrase, but when it comes to Eyeball Glue, there’s only one.

That would be Andy Nulman, who, together with IT professional Garner Bornstein, founded the Montreal-based Web consulting company with the strange sounding name. They say Eyeball Glue has one mission: to help Canada’s blue chip companies re-design their e-commerce sites in a way that keeps customers coming back.

Nulman and Bornstein aren’t the typical IT business partners: besides being the public face for nearly every comedian that has performed in Montreal in the past decades, Nulman’s achievements also include 15 years as CEO of Montreal’s Just for Laughs international comedy festival.

He’s also written two books, is an active public speaker, has taught at Concordia University and is a part-time television correspondent.

Bornstein, however, has worked off and on in IT for almost 20 years, including stints as the head of Montreal-based ISP Generation Net and the Toronto company that eventually bought it, EcomPark.

The two were already friends for years when Bornstein invited Nulman, who says he was looking for a new challenge, to join him this past May to launch Eyeball Glue, a new division of EcomPark.

The two say the problem with Web sites, especially those set up to sell goods to customers, is they are boring. In the rush to throw up catalogue after catalogue, executives forgot they also have to entice those customers to keep coming back. Whether or not buyers will return, they say, depends on how the Web site “feels.”

That’s where Eyeball Glue comes in. “We find a unique way to allow companies to bond, to create a dialogue with customers,” Bornstein said. “And whatever it takes to do that is called content, be it games, editorial…it could be anything it takes, creatively speaking.”

The pair say the business has been doing well – like the time the two were contacted by the head of a large Canadian academic institution who wanted to make the school’s Web site more appealing to prospective students. Nulman assessed the site they were running at the time – which he describes as laden with faculty-written information and dull graphics – and cringed.

“I told him (the dean), ‘You think this will draw people in to a university? My friend, it’s 16 to 19-year-old people making that decision, and they ain’t turned on by this.'”

So they revamped the look of the site, adding more and more useful information about the city where the school was located, plus material written by and for students. They even staged an underground “hijack” of the school’s site to help generate some excitement.

Bornstein said Eyeball Glue’s approach is about mixing creativity with the client’s own personality – a process he applied at the school, and one which he said easily won over the school’s administration.

“We’re not a wacky bunch of guys coming in with crazy ideas. We will come in with ideas that are off the beaten path…but we’re still attentive to the necessity to maintain a certain degree of history,” Bornstein said

When asked how Eyeball Glue differs from the legions of webmasters, graphic designers and layout artists that have profited from the rise of the Internet, and who know a thing or two about giving Web sites a unique look, Nulman compares the company to Hollywood screenwriters.

“It’s like the ConAir scene where the plane crashes into the strip in Las Vegas,” he explains. “The screenwriter doesn’t care about the details, he has the vision, and the other special effects people are talented in…converting that vision.”

Though they haven’t had any of their ideas turned down yet, Bornstein fully expects that will happen. In fact, Nulman said it’s the very unlikelihood of the elite of Canadian business doing something wacky with their sites that gives him the most optimism for his company’s future.

“A very established Internet architect said the problem is, in Canada, companies are so conservative, and I said, ‘That’s perfect, because that means it’s virgin territory for us to go ahead and convert them,'” Nulman said.

In fact, Bornstein expects that his vision of corporate Web sites is one that will be eagerly embraced by IT shops across Canada.

“It’s going to push the IT side of things, it’s going to inject a level of creativity, it’s going to be very motivating for the people, the plumbers, the people that are actually executing this, because they’re always going to be breaking new ground, doing things that are different for a programmer.”