Value Added: Perfect Sense builds a reputation as well as Web sites


David Gang, chief executive of Perfect Sense, founded the Reston firm with chief creative officer Lisa Malmud. Both are AOL veterans with extensive contacts in the tech world. (Brooks Kraft/Perfect Sense)
Thomas Heath
Reporter September 29, 2013

David Gang picks up the telephone for my interview on his Web design company and tells me to hold on. “I am literally talking to a guy from his hospital bed. He’s a little delirious. I am closing a deal,” he says.

Is he putting me on — or really serious? I’m thinking.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade. View Archive

I decide that Gang, 57, is serious. And dedicated.

He convinces me with a tale about a project that started in August last year with Gannett for its flagship newspaper, USA Today.

“It didn’t go well,” he says matter-of-factly.

Gang’s company, Perfect Sense, waaaaaaaaaaaaaay underbid the project, which involved pulling together tens of millions of records so that USA Today could publish an online high school sports page.

The project took twice as long as Gang thought it would. It was twice as expensive as he budgeted. Gang, who prides Perfect Sense on its efficiency, didn’t charge Gannett another dime beyond his initial estimate.

“We lost a ton,” he said. But he finished the deal, and USA Today is still using the platform he built for its high school sports page.

“I remember when we switched managers, the Gannett guy called me and said, ‘I am blown away by the fact that you are still working on this project and anyone else would have said I’m done with this project and would have been out the door.’ ”

“We never left the room,” Gang said.

Gang cited the Gannett implosion as proof that reputation is everything, even if he is losing money on something. His business is based on word of mouth, and word of a person’s integrity can travel far.

What Perfect Sense does is build and service Web sites. Think of it as the online version of your home architect, contractor, plumber, electrician and interior designer — all rolled into one.

“We take ideas from executives and bring it to life — creating designs, organizing the pages and telling a story,” Gang said.

Gang, who serves as chief executive, founded the Virginia company with chief creative officer Lisa Malmud, both AOL veterans with extensive contacts in the tech world.

Perfect Sense began while the two sipped coffee at Panera Bread in Reston. Both had left AOL and WebMD and were pondering their next gigs. Gang started getting calls from a friend at Scripps, asking for help building Web sites for several television shows.

“She kept calling. I finally said I would come up and visit,” Gang said. “I went to New York, spent a week talking to her about HGTV and the Food Network. I said, ‘Here are things I would do if I were you.’ 

The Scripps executive was sold. Gang called Malmud and said, “I think we found our first client.”

That was in 2008, and Scripps is still the biggest client.

“When Food Network launched, David and I thought ‘What are we going to do next?,’ ” Malmud recalled. “Then we looked up, and the Scripps leadership had lined up work for us through the next five years.”

Today, the firm’s roster of clients includes several well-known names in the Washington area: Hanley Wood in the District, U.S. News & World Report, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, FedBid, Special Olympics, SnagFilms and Indiewire. Ted Leonsis and Steve Case, both bosses from Gang’s AOL days, are friends. Leonsis in particular is a mentor.

Outside Washington, the company’s clients include big brands such as HGTV, the Food Network and Cooking Channel, which are part of Scripps Networks Interactive. Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart are clients, too.

Perfect Sense is working on a digital project for Lionsgate, the entertainment company, and Univision, a Hispanic media company.

Gang runs the daily operations. Malmud handles big accounts, such as Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart, and manages the design teams that make Web sites inviting.

Perfect Sense differentiates itself through speed and quality. It clocks its projects at four months on average, which the company claims is a couple of months faster than most of the competition. Leonsis’s Monumental Network Web site came in under 100 days, as did the lifestyle video site called Ulive and a rich-and-famous real estate site called FrontDoor. Both Ulive and FrontDoor were built for Scripps Networks Interactive.

Gang and Malmud have worked on about 50 projects, ranging from $200,000 to $2 million. The Reston company has more than $25 million in revenue. Of that, 12 percent comes from designing the Web sites, 75 percent from building Web sites and 13 percent from keeping them running round the clock.

Perfect Sense has 77 full-time employees and a dozen contract employees. There is a small team in California and a handful of employees in New York.

The co-founders pay themselves through quarterly distributions. Gang owns 75 percent of the company, Malmud owns the rest. About 15 percent of the profits go to charity every year, much of that to Special Olympics.

The big current push is Brightspot, which is a digital product that clients can use to build Web sites. Perfect Sense makes money on Brightspot by providing services to clients who use the product, sometimes over the course of years.

“We have been focused on two things,” Gang said. “One is making sure the partnership is great. We don’t nickel and dime. If I’m worrying about the dollars, I’m missing the most important thing,” he said. “Our reputation.”

“We just don’t leave,” Malmud, 44, agreed. “We make commitments to companies and we don’t leave.”

It must work. Perfect Sense still has five of its first six clients.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/business.

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