An Interview with Marc Zablatsky, Vice President & General Manager, Sitecues
Many people may think that the only reason to add accessibility support and features to a web site is because there are regulations that require it and that not doing so could result in serious penalties. While that may be one good reason to add accessibility features to your web site, such support also makes good business sense, allowing businesses to help seniors and baby boomers with age-related loss of vision, cognition, and dexterity. Marc Zablatsky explains why that is so and how web accessibility is going to evolve in the future.
HostAdvice: You seem to have had quite a diverse career before coming to Sitecues – no?
Yes, I have lived and worked all over the world. I started my career in corporate finance, went back to school for my MBA; after Harvard Business School a whole new world opened for me. I then went into consumer packaged goods, building brands for retailers in Texas, New Jersey, Connecticut, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Upon returning to the USA, I did a private equity rollup in the personalized toy space and then hit a wall. I decided that going forward I would only work and run companies that had a positive impact on the world. This started me on an interesting journey of non-profits (Minority Leadership Development and Addressing Childhood Obesity) and then back to corporate with for-profits that have a positive impact on the world. That is how I ended up with Ai Squared, the makers of ZoomText and now Sitecues.
HostAdvice: Can you please make sure I’ve got this right? Sitecues is a product developed by a company called Ai Squared – and Ai squared was purchased about 5 months ago by a company called VFO, which now markets Sitecues as one of its brands, correct?
You have that right. We are now part of VFO, which is the largest technology vendor globally serving the visually impaired community. VFO and Ai Squared have been serving this market for over 30 years. Through that experience, we learned that only a small fraction of those who could benefit from assistive technology actually use it. We’ve trying to dramatically extend the reach of assistive technology with Sitecues.
HostAdvice: What exactly is Sitecues? What are its main features and benefits?
Sitecues is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for website owners that builds accessibility functionality directly into a website. With Sitecues, website visitors can magnify the page, have the page read, and do lots of other things to make the site easier to see and use. Building these capabilities into the website itself is a way for a website owner to make their website stand out and really accommodate visitors regardless of their need or ability.
HostAdvice: If we talk about who is the Sitecues target audience, there are really two different aspects to this – the customers who buy Sitecues to enhance their websites and the users who visit those web sites and benefit from the advanced features. Let’s start by talking about the first audience – your customers.
We serve a very broad range of organizations – anyone with a website can benefit from our service. That being said, we find 3 main motivations for implementing Sitecues:
- One motivator is inclusion - organizations that are focused on including people with special needs, like libraries, schools, and non-profits.
- There are also customers motivated to reduce risk from ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) complaints and related regulation. This group includes public sector entities, like airports and commercial entities, like banks.
- Finally, there are customers who see an ROI (Return On Investment) from investing in digital accessibility. We have customers who are senior care providers, and who differentiate their sales and support by maintaining a more usable website.
HostAdvice: Who are some of your biggest customers?
We serve some of the largest universities and libraries in the US. Several of the California State Universities are customers. We also serve some national non-profits including Best Friends Animal Society. We also have Federal and State government customers, including the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
HostAdvice: How many active customers do you have today? Where are they mainly located?
We serve over 100 customers today. Most are in the US, but we also have international customers.
HostAdvice: The second audience that you target is the ultimate end users of the software. I understand that you have some pretty clear guidelines as to what types of users the Sitecues technology is meant for and for whom it is not so appropriate.
The people we help are diverse in terms of their needs and are actually massive in terms of population size. We help seniors and baby boomers with age-related loss of vision, cognition, and dexterity. We also help non-seniors who have non-correctable vision loss (9% of the US population), people with learning disabilities (15% of the population), and people with low literacy (21%) and non-native English (5%).
Our general approach is to help the considerable fraction of the population that is using the web today without assistance, but who could benefit from a more usable website. As such, our technology does not try to replace existing tools those with the most acute needs, such as people who are legally blind.
HostAdvice: Why isn’t there any pricing information on your web site? Can you give me an idea of what a typical annual license fee would be?
Pricing starts at $1k per year for small non profits and organizations that have traffic of less then 10,000 uniques per month. Pricing scales with the traffic to a website. Larger organizations can range from $5K to $100K+ per year with a three year agreement. This structure allows us to serve small, local organizations as well as large corporations.
For Libraries and Universities pricing can also be based on the size of the community they serve.
HostAdvice: Who do you see as your main competitors?
We are sometimes compared to solutions like ReadSpeaker or BrowseAloud, though these support a much narrower set of users and use cases. The top obstacle for anyone delivering accessibility is awareness – most organizations are simply not aware that they have an accessibility problem on their website and in many other areas of their operations.
HostAdvice: How do you see your tools as different and/or better than theirs?
We differentiate by creating tools that are easy to use and deploy. For end users, this means creating a user interface and features that are intuitive and that will be used with no training. For website owners, this means technology that does not require a website redesign, and that it can be easily deployed across any number of web pages or websites.
HostAdvice: How has accessibility legislation affected your company and products?
Traditionally, much of the spending on assistive technology is driven by regulations and state funding. With Sitecues, we are trying to change the paradigm by creating assistive technology that organizations will WANT to invest in. We know that an accessible website can be a benefit to many organizations BEYOND the strict regulatory requirements. So we are more focused on helping end users and organizations than on regulations.
HostAdvice: How do you see accessibility legislation and the accessibility market evolving in the coming years?
Great question. One trend is the growing realization that accessibility can help seniors and Baby Boomers. There is significant overlap in what helps people with disabilities and what helps many seniors. Companies looking to improve their senior marketing are looking to accessibility.
Another interesting area is mobile. Most of the accessibility regulations and technologies grew up in a desktop world. Porting those over to mobile has worked, but only to a point. As an industry, we need a mobile-first approach to key aspects of accessibility.
HostAdvice: You also include a product called CompliancePlus that is a website accessibility audit service. Can you describe that to me?
We offer a turnkey service for organizations who want or need a compliant website, but who don’t have the internal capabilities to do so. We found that many websites were built to be compliant by an external web developer, but that nobody within the organization makes sure that the website STAYS accessible afterwards. We monitor our clients’ websites on an ongoing basis, and use tools to enhance accessibility. Since organizations face legal risk if their websites do not STAY accessible, our service makes sense.
HostAdvice: What are your future plans for Sitecues?
We want to make the service better by improving usage metrics. Rather than adding a ton of features, we want to ensure that the existing features actually help users. We also want to show impact for our customers – drawing a straight line from Sitecues usage on their website to impacts on their business. We will do all of this by leaning heavily on our metrics. Our metrics tell us everything about how Sitecues is used on each website. Without collecting any PII, (Personally Identifiable Information) we are able to share aggregate usage data with our customers, and they us this data in all sorts of ways.
HostAdvice: How many employees do you have today? Where are they located?
We have a small team – about 10 people distributed around the US. Most are engineers, followed by sales. We also get support from VFO staff in a number of areas.
HostAdvice: How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I typically wake up at 6am, go to the gym and try to get to the office by 8:30am. I am usually home by 7pm. My wife and daughter will say I work way too much.
I love to play tennis, ski, hike and adventure travel. I have been fortunate to have lived and worked all over the world. Along the way I climbed Kilimanjaro, Trekked the Annapurna and Everest Base Camp circuits and backpacked on my own for 6 months across Southeast Asia. My now wife and I trekked the Tour de Mt. Blanc while we were dating. Since becoming a father, my focus has shifted, but one of these days the adventure will be put back in front of the word travel.
HostAdvice: If you were asked to give the graduation address to the class of 2016, what would be your message to them?
Some people have hobbies mine is business. I get a kick out of coming up with new strategies and building new businesses. That is my passion in life -behind tennis of course.
But as I look back on my business accomplishments the things I am most proud of are centered around the employees whose lives I have been able to positively impact by bringing them life changing (trajectory changing) opportunities. Once they have proved themselves strong performers.
So bust your ass, take chances, step way outside your comfort zone. The risks you take in your early career will determine where you ultimately end up. But always have fun with it. If it feels like work, you are in the wrong place.
HostAdvice: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Give Sitecues a try and provide us with some feedback. Feedback has helps us tremendously as we continuously improve the product.