Putting the Humanity Back in Web Design and Development at Cybernautic

 Cybernautic Founder and CEO Chad Parker (Left) and Vice President and Chief Potential Officer Robbie Osenga review renovation plans for their new offices on Empire Street in Bloomington. (Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

Cybernautic Founder and CEO Chad Parker (Left) and Vice President and Chief Potential Officer Robbie Osenga review renovation plans for their new offices on Empire Street in Bloomington. (Photo: Breanna Grow/AdaptBN)

Chad Parker was a junior at Bloomington High School when he started building websites for local businesses from an office set up in his parents’ basement.

Twenty years later, his company Cybernautic Inc. has built and managed hundreds of websites for clients from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies and expanded to include offices in Peoria, Champaign, Chicago and The Philippines.

Well-designed, fast, mobile-friendly websites became ‘must-have’ for businesses of all sizes, and Cybernautic has been there since day one. The company cites their personal touch as their key differentiator from the competition.

Putting People Over Technology

As a teen, Parker knew he could make money online. Trading ‘dot-com’ stocks from his desk, he’d sometimes make $1,000 by the end of the first trading hour. He spent sophomore year of high school dealing tens of thousands of dollars in Beanie Babies using a website he built himself.

Even as their client list grew and more and more businesses came to rely on Cybernautic, Parker wasn’t profit-focused. Instead, Parker measures the company’s success in a variety of different ways.

He recalls nights as a child spent sitting on the staircase, listening to his parents fight over money. Both were small business owners -- sometimes they weren’t sure how they’d pay the bills.

“That has always stuck with me a little bit and reminds me that the work we get to do at Cybernautic has a specific and direct impact on the bottom lines of the small businesses in our community,” Parker says.

The story struck a chord with Parker’s longtime friend Robbie Osenga as the two talked for hours at a barbecue one summer. Osenga was working as the principal of a school he started in LeRoy for children with special needs. He also found he had a knack for figuring out what made people tick.

“[Parker] had a lot of weight on his shoulders; not just this company, not just his employees, not just his life, the nonprofit he had started as well, but thinking about all the kids sitting on the staircases -- there was a lot of weight there.”

Osenga wanted to help. “I just started showing up.”

He now serves as Vice President and Chief Potential Officer of Cybernautic.

“My job is to constantly fight to keep the humanity in the digital space because that’s our value proposition,” says Osenga.

Without their ability to build a connection with clients, Cybernautic is just as good as the next web building service -- and there are plenty of free do-it-yourself platforms out there.

“What GoDaddy can't do for you that we can do is sit down and understand your market and your product,” Parker explains.

And while technology helps companies like Cybernautic to do business around the globe, Osenga and Parker don’t want screens becoming stand-ins for humans.

Osenga says he uses that word -- “humans” -- as much as possible. It sounds awkward in conversation, forcing others to consider just who it is they’re talking about when referencing employees, coworkers and clients: people whose value can’t be summed up with a job title.

“We forget there’s a real person on the other side of this computer that I’m talking to, and that they are real, and they have a family and a job and a life,” Parker says. “It’s easy to start treating people like robots.”

Even when the client is a multinational corporation, Parker says he still wants to sit down with a person and have a conversation.

It’s that kind of thinking that led Cybernautic to its new headquarters at 2400 E. Empire St. in Bloomington.

New Offices, New Beginnings

When Easter Seals of Central Illinois announced it would sell its facility to Cybernautic, the nature of the partnership wasn’t exactly intuitive -- what interest would a tech company doing business with national and international clients have in becoming a landlord for a nonprofit?  

As Parker and Osenga were searching for a place to house Cybernautic’s growing team, Easter Seals was exploring a collaboration between the Bloomington-Normal YMCA and OSF Saint Joseph Medical Center to build a new facility on Bloomington’s East Side.

Parker says he had his sights set on “The Easter Seals Building” long before it went on the market. When Osenga told him Easter Seals was planning to move, Parker started running the numbers.

Housing a dozen people in a near 14,000-square foot building wouldn’t make sense, but with Cybernautic still adding employees, Parker estimated they could grow to fit the space within three to four years.

Having worked with Easter Seals while he was a school administrator, Osenga sensed an opportunity. He and Parker opted to skip the traditional back-and-forth real estate negotiation for a face-to-face discussion, searching for common ground between the two organizations.

“It was an unusual negotiation, but what was cool was by taking the time to value people over technology, we were able to sit down and figure out what their needs were and what worked best for them,” Parker says.

As they talked, Parker says he felt “instant connectivity” with the folks at Easter Seals.

“Hearing some of their stories, what they value and what matters to them mirrored so much of our organization and what we value.”

It turned out Easter Seals was willing to lease a portion of the space from Cybernautic until it could move into the new East Side facility.

Cybernautic agreed to purchase the building and occupy the second floor, with Easter Seals remaining on the first floor for at least the next five years.

“It affords us the ability to come in and continue the growth track that we’re on, but also when it’s time for [Easter Seals] to go, we can be excited about it when they leave,” Parker says.

The sale closed in late January and Cybernautic filed remodeling permits in March.

Since then Parker and Osenga have been busy directing renovations at the facility to turn its secluded offices into a space that fosters creativity, replacing drywall with glass and incorporating common areas like a kitchen and meeting rooms to encourage collaboration.

People often ask Parker and Osenga why they’ve stayed in Bloomington-Normal even as Cybernautic expanded throughout Central Illinois and beyond.

“Being a townie, I always anticipated my life would be drawn someplace cooler than Bloomington-Normal,” Osenga says. “Over the last several years I’ve really realized this is where I’m called, to help bring about a brighter Blono.”

“I know that every day that we get to come to work and we get to do what we do, we are making a positive impact for the people we get to serve here,” Parker says. “That’s why I’ve never left Bloomington, Illinois and I’ll never leave Bloomington, Illinois. I’ll die here. I will probably have this job until I can’t have a job anymore.”