On the web? Zuznow has an app for that

Ken and Rachel Levkovich: Despite visa delays, off to a fast start.

By GREGORY ZELLER // One of the world’s busiest mobile-app makers is on the move.

Zuznow, an Israeli firm ranked by tech-industry watchdog Gartner Analysts as a Top 10 vendor in the mobile-app space, is relocating from Tel Aviv to Stony Brook, where it’s one of the newest residents of the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology.

The Tel Aviv facility will remain open, continuing to perform R&D functions and serve Israeli and European customers, noted cofounder and President Ken Levkovich, but the Stony Brook office will become the company’s headquarters. The CEWIT space already boasts one salesperson, though hiring the remaining staff – Levkovich envisions a larger sales team, marketing professionals, a tech-support crew and customer support personnel – is on hold while company officials deal with U.S. immigration procedures.

“We’ve started to look for people,” Levkovich noted. “We’ll have to start hiring even before we move, especially technical support for our customers. Optimistically, we can hopefully begin hiring within the next few months.”

Whenever the new hires come aboard, they’ll join one of the hottest startups on either side of the Atlantic. Levkovich and his wife, Rachel, cofounded Zuznow in 2011, leveraging Levkovich’s background as a manager in the software security field and a bootstrap budget of a few thousand dollars to wade into a crowded mobile-application-creation field.

But they had a hook: Zuznow creates apps for existing Internet applications, not just apps created from scratch.

“Zuznow is for medium to large organizations, allowing them to mobilize their entire business,” Levkovich said. “We don’t just create one application for them; we help them mobilize hundreds or thousands of applications they already have.”

Using an algorithm developed in-house, the company can convert any web-based application, the president added, whether it’s consumer-focused – a web-based banking program, for instance – or an internal program for employees only.

“As long as it’s based on the web, it can be converted to a mobile app,” Levkovich said.

The hook has proved effective. Not only did Gartner rate the four-year-old firm one of the biggest dogs in the mobile-app fight, but customers have flocked: Levkovich said his 10-employee company now counts over 100 clients, including banks, government agencies, healthcare providers and educators.

“We have customers from many other fields,” he noted. “But those are the biggest ones.”

Investors also like what they see. Since the Levkoviches bootstrapped their way through that first year, Zuznow has raised roughly $1.1 million, including about $500,000 from angel investors and other private sources in Israel and Europe and a $600,000 convertible note Levkovich declined to discuss further.

Albany is apparently also a fan. Although it is yet to be cleared by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Zuznow was approved earlier this year for the Start-Up NY program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to spur the state’s innovation economy by creating tax-free zones around major universities and R&D centers, including Stony Brook University.

While he’s only hired that one U.S. sales rep, Levkovich said the Start-Up program’s tax benefits will come in handy when Zuznow officially relocates its HQ.

“It should be a big help,” the entrepreneur said. “When you don’t have to pay taxes, that’s good, and when the people you hire don’t have to pay taxes, that’s also a big benefit.”

The biggest benefit of all, he added, may come from the company’s physical location on the Stony Brook campus. Not only is Zuznow planning to hire SBU students for customer-service positions, but several “programs connected to the university” are already proving beneficial, according to Levkovich.

“The university has been really helpful in all aspects, especially in our case as a foreign company with a huge gap to fill in learning how to do things in the United States,” he said. “They really have some excellent people and are making us feel comfortable and welcome. That’s been the greatest benefit.”

Also easing the company’s forthcoming transition to the States: a go-to-market deal with IT titan IBM. While the Armonk-based stalwart is already knee-deep in the mobilization business, IBM’s MobileFirst solutions don’t cover existing web-based applications – “a gap,” Levkovich noted. “They can’t mobilize the applications you already have.”

Through the go-to-market strategy, Zuznow and IBM will solicit customers together and “sell both our programs in one offering,” Levkovich added.

Zuznow, meanwhile, is hard at work on expanding its own technological capabilities, including new mobilization platforms for different devices – the Apple Watch, for instance.

“Our goal is to always be up to date, so our customers can easily launch new channels without a huge effort,” Levkovich noted.

It all adds up to a progressive and fast-rising startup that’s already overtaking some industry leaders, even before it relocates to the backyard of its juiciest customer base.

“That’s why we chose to move to New York and not the West Coast: to be close to our customers,” Levkovich told Innovate LI. “We feel very fortunate to be at Stony Brook University, which is beautiful. Everything we need is in Stony Brook.”

Zuznow

What’s It? Mobile-development platforms for commercial and government customers

Brought To You By: Israel natives, and future New Yorkers, Ken and Rachel Levkovich

All In: “A few thousand dollars” for equipment, according to Ken Levkovich (followed nicely by $1.1 million in Series A funding and convertible notes)

Status: Partnering with IBM, overtaking industry leaders, coming soon to a major SUNY institution near you