By Jo Kadlecek
---- — The future has come to the city of Beverly, and you can find it in the old taxi dispatch just around the corner from Cityside Diner.
The renovated street-level office on Knowlton Street now houses Latitude Labs, the newest venture for parent company Latitude, a global media and technology research company that has grown from a single employee when it began in 2001 to 16 and serves clients such as ESPN, The New York Times, BBC and Nickelodeon.
Founded by CEO Steve Mushkin from a computer in the Beverly Public Library, Latitude’s headquarters now consists of four offices above the diner on Cabot Street. Its location in downtown Beverly is as important to Mushkin as the company’s global reach.
“When I moved to the area in 1995, I immediately recognized that Beverly had an interesting combination of intelligence, creativity and character, which I loved,” said Mushkin, who lives with his wife and two sons in Hamilton and in southern France. “Beverly’s got a great vibe, a diversity of people, food and history, but I also like how accessible it is for people coming from Boston or Cambridge.”
Mushkin, who worked in research management for Time Warner before founding Latitude, was enamored early on with the Internet, realizing both its benefits in exploring the world but also its physical limitations. That fascination led him first to the Beverly Public Library in 2000, where he literally launched his business with what are now considered archaic versions of Internet access. He used several reference books from the shelves there to “get my head around what this business could be,” and even named his company based on the principles in one of those books.
He’d long been interested in maps, but he also recognized that Latitude’s double meaning would allow employees the freedom they’d need to explore new technological terrain. Charmed by Beverly’s downtown, four months later, he saw the “For Lease” sign in the window above the diner on Cabot Street and has built Latitude from there ever since.
“Latitude has the pleasures and constraints of being in a great place (like Beverly), and at the same time, we have increasingly open possibilities to grow in knowledge,” Mushkin said. “We can operate at great distances globally but can also enjoy being local. That’s what we also try to tell our clients.”
In addition to providing corporate guidance in content, software and technology development, as well as brand expansion, Latitude conducts focused research and strategic studies on customer behavior and product innovation for Web and mobile devices. For instance, they study the future of storytelling, how robots might affect children and even how mobile devices will change retail. The combination of integrated research is what led to the founding of Latitude Labs, where Ian Schulte, vice president of new ventures, says the company’s location and vision gives him the freedom to create new platforms.
“There’s a big difference between working in Beverly and working in bigger cities,” said Schulte, who joined Latitude four years ago after working in strategy research in Washington, D.C. “Here, there are fewer distractions, and that makes for a more creative and engaging environment.”
Schulte is overseeing Latitude Labs’ newest product, Lumiere, which the company will launch in early February.
Named after both the French word for light and the Lumiere brothers, who were early pioneers in modern cinema, Schulte said the new tool provides companies or educational institutions ways to embed information in a video while watching it.
“It’s a really innovative opportunity to conduct audience research and could provide interactive feedback for multiple purposes,” Schulte said.
The new software is one example of how Schulte said the company has grown even through the recession, in part because “clients know we’ll provide valuable but personal help, tools and research.”
Latitude Labs also plans to develop what they call “next generation” integrated technologies, including “discovery documentaries from the future.” The documentary videos are part of several content services the company expects to continue exploring, a strategy Mushkin said goes beyond simply studying “life connected” (the company motto) to actually making it.
“Latitude implies freedom, and we do it ourselves, as well as help our clients do the same. It’s all about creating value for people so that clients, customers, even society, all benefit,” Mushkin said. “Beverly allows us to do that, and because of what (the city) is doing and how it’s evolving, we’ll be here a long time.”