Website builder founded by Penn State alums unveils new publishing suite

As businesses have increasingly turned to Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to reach customers, some have wondered whether the traditional website is passé. The leaders of Weebly, a Web-hosting service with its roots at Penn State, would beg to differ.

"A website is a digital identity for many people," said David Rusenko, CEO of Weebly and a 2006 graduate of Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST). "It's where they showcase their ideas, build meaningful relationships with clients, and really put themselves out there."

Since bursting onto the Silicon Valley scene in 2006, Weebly, which was founded by Rusenko, Chief Technical Officer Chris Fanini (a 2011, IST alumnus) and Chief Operating Officer Dan Veltri, (a 2007, Smeal Business College alumnus) has enabled millions of users to create their own websites at little to no cost. In early May, Weebly unveiled a new site planner, along with a catch phrase “Start Something” to help people develop a vision for what their site should accomplish.

“The overwhelming majority of people who use Weebly consider themselves entrepreneurs,” Fanini said. “Whether it’s an online business, or a personal site, Weebly has allowed them to simply start something.”

According to Dr. Gerry Santoro, a senior lecturer at the College of IST, Weebly’s success is the result of a combination of ingenuity, savvy and determination on the part of its founders. The prototype for Weebly was conceived by Rusenko, when he was a junior, as a capstone project for Santoro’s class on data-driven Web services. The class followed an entrepreneurial model, in which student teams proposed a Web-based service with a database backend. Rusenko's original concept involved applying Ajax -- a group of interrelated Web development techniques used on the client-side to create asynchronous Web applications — to the creation of online student portfolios without using Penn State’s template.

“What David realized was that a certain amount of what people want in a webpage could be automated into what is essentially drag-and-drop,” Santoro said.

Santoro said that he knew Rusenko was "capable of doing the project on his own and wanted him to have the freedom to do so," so he let him have free rein with the project. Rusenko eventually partnered up with Fanini and Veltri, and they submitted the Weebly prototype into a competition sponsored by Y Combinator -- a company that provides seed money, advice and connections to startups -- and won.

“It just kind of went from there,” Santoro said. “It was the right time and the right place with a couple of kids who had the energy to put into it.”

More than 15 million people have created a website with Weebly, and those sites attract about 115 million unique visitors a month. In addition, 12 percent of the U.S. population visits a Weebly website every month. Weebly was named one of Time’s 50 best websites of 2007, and has been featured in Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines as well as on NBC and the BBC. In December 2011, Rusenko was named to Forbes' "30 under 30: Social/Mobile," a list of influential under-30-year-olds in the social media and mobile industries. He received the Alumni Achievement Award from the Penn State Alumni Association in 2010, becoming the youngest recipient of that award and the first recipient from IST.

“People see Weebly as this empowering, easy-to-use service that essentially gives them the freedom to do anything,” Fanini said.

Weebly’s recent overhaul to its publishing suite now allows people to drag and drop page elements like images and headlines onto a canvas to build a site. The new site planner and creator, which use the HTML5 programming standard for creation of sites that will work correctly on different Web browsers, helps people come up with content and ideas before they start building their sites. The product will also automatically reformat a site for viewing on mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. It will also be possible to edit a site from a mobile device, and view changes before they are published.

“We found that people had a sort of writer's block when presented with a blank page,” Fanini said. “This is why we built the all-new site planner, which helps guide new users through the process of organizing and creating a site.”

By providing customers with a drag-and-drop site creator and allowing them to create as many as 10 websites for free, he added, Weebly offers users the ability to create a website without any technical knowledge.

“We’re focused on giving people a surprisingly easy way to create a high-quality site that achieves their goals and works perfectly across Web and mobile,” Fanini said.

To learn more about Weebly's recent developments, visit www.weebly.com/press/news/.

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Last Updated August 20, 2013