Sweb CEO puts AI to work for small business web design
When Dr. Rick Ramos Dominguez was preparing to leave the U.S. Navy and go into private medical practice, he wanted a model that would allow him to spend more time with patients.
He carefully researched what’s referred to as concierge medicine, where patients pay an annual fee in exchange for more time with their doctor, and launched People-Centered Health last year.
What he didn’t think much about was marketing his new business. He knew he needed a website, and reached out to Magaly Chocano, founder of digital services agency Sweb Development.
For years, Chocano had been saying no to business owners like Ramos Dominguez, whose budgets were too small for the full-service, bespoke approach Sweb takes for its larger clients. But for the past year, she has been working with artificial intelligence to see if it could help create more affordable websites for smaller clients.
Ramos Dominguez’ practice became one of the first clients of SwebWiz, which offers three packages of services for newer or smaller businesses looking to build a basic web presence but don’t want to go the DIY route.
Chocano said she really wanted to “develop something more cost-effective for the hundreds — thousands — of small companies that are out there and need to be focused on their business.”
From websites to marketing
Another early client was serial entrepreneur Tim McDiarmid, who owns The Good Kind Hospitality Group and Tim the Girl Catering. Most recently, McDiarmid launched The Bravery Strategy, which offers business coaching and consulting — after years of mentoring other small business owners in a more casual and non-remunerative way.
McDiarmid has known Chocano for years. Both women are members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global networking group, and have participated in leadership and business development opportunities together. As she learned more about what Chocano was trying to do with AI, the two began to talk about the need to create a marketing product that would offer similar features: affordability, simplicity and a little handholding.
McDiarmid said that over the years of running her own businesses, she’s reviewed countless marketing pitches, and found most of them supremely frustrating, jam-packed with jargon she had to decipher as well as “lots of fluff.”
She decided to do what entrepreneurs often find themselves doing: digging in and learning it herself. Last year she took a deep-dive course in targeted advertising and lead generation, and she’s now working with Chocano on the AI-enhanced marketing packages SwebWiz now offers.
“It’s just so laborious and confusing for small business owners,” McDiarmid said. “And so we really wanted to offer businesses transparent, simple, actionable marketing” that emphasizes lead generation.
Said Chocano, “I don’t know how to express this elegantly, but we’re not going to bullshit you. We don’t have a silver bullet. I’m so sick of that. But we are nimble, fast and super smart — and if it’s not working, we’ll switch it up until it does.”
Sweb Development CEO Magaly Chocano and SwebWiz Chief Brand Strategist Tim McDiarmid. Credit: Brenda Bazán / San Antonio Report
‘From zero to 100 overnight’
Chocano has been switching it up ever since she launched Sweb Development in 2008. Her timing couldn’t have been worse, with the Great Recession erasing discretionary spending and jobs across the country — including her husband’s.
But the following year, when Apple announced it would allow third-party developers to build apps for the iPhone, Chocano saw an opportunity, and Sweb built what would become the first platform that enabled businesses to create their own apps in just a few clicks.
Sweb Apps, as it was known, catapulted the company “from zero to 100 overnight,” she said.
She never sought investors; the company instead grew organically to a team of about 20 people by 2020. At that point, the company was located in the historic triangular Texaco gas station on South Flores Street at the three-way intersection of Cevallos and Nogalitos streets, which Chocano had purchased and lovingly renovated.
A fire destroyed the building on Feb. 28, 2020 — just two weeks before the pandemic shut down the world. Chocano and her team were embraced by an outpouring of support from San Antonians. Just two weeks later, she launched an effort to take care of others as COVID-related closures eviscerated the livelihoods of small business owners around the city.
San Antonio Fire Department crews contain the fire at Sweb Development building in February, 2020. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report
Chocano began selling T-shirts emblazoned with “In This Together” in English and Spanish. She then used the proceeds to buy gift cards from struggling small businesses like restaurants. She’d then give those gift cards to local nonprofits to distribute to those in need and front-line workers.
The campaign ultimately raised $130,000; for her efforts, Chocano earned New York Life Foundation’s “Love Takes Action” award, which came with a $50,000 gift that she donated to the Children’s Bereavement Center.
Meanwhile, Sweb Development has continued to evolve to keep up with what’s happening in web, app and digital marketing, and the ways running a business has been altered by the pandemic.
Having moved on from its Sweb App platform once that market flooded with similar entrants, Sweb Development today offers a full range of services, from website and app development to digital marketing. After years working with large global companies, it has also found a niche working with nonprofits.
Sweb no longer has an office. Six employees work in San Antonio, and six work remotely. Chocano hosts a virtual standup every morning, and on Wednesdays, the local team works together, rotating among coffee shops.
SwebWiz is the latest iteration for the company, but Chocano knows it won’t be the last. She said diving into AI has been “fascinating,” and she’s enjoyed the challenges of creating a quality product for smaller businesses. She’s headed to Bulgaria next month to speak at a women’s small business conference, where she’ll pitch SwebWiz to an international audience.
Ramos Dominguez, who thought at first he just needed a website, is now a SwebWiz marketing client as well. “It’s just foreign to me,” he said of the constantly shifting digital marketplace, “so to have somebody that tells you how to move forward, how to navigate that space is extremely helpful. It can be overwhelming.”
A 2012 article in Silicon Hills News, a technology news site covering the Austin and San Antonio region, described Chocano as knowing that “success sometimes requires reinvention.”
These days, Chocano has dropped the qualifier. “It’s just relentless reinvention, you know?”