Open here to read the full 2016 Inc. 500 list of Amer­ica’s fastest-grow­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies.

Inc. (USA) - - INC. 500 -

the pro­tag­o­nist sets off on an ad­ven­ture and must face or­deals be­fore claim­ing his re­ward. In the fol­low­ing pages, you will en­counter many ver­sions of the hero’s jour­ney: tales of en­trepreneurs sol­dier­ing on through cir­cum­stances that would cause most folks to pack it in. How­ever, their achieve­ment isn’t pred­i­cated on en­durance alone. Yes, what didn’t kill these en­trepreneurs made them stronger. But it also sharp­ened their minds as well as tough­ened their spir­its.

En­trepreneurs who suc­ceed, says Blank, are those who emerge from the cru­cible with height­ened self-knowl­edge. “When you talk to them, you know you’re not just talk­ing to smart peo­ple,” he says. “You know you are speak­ing to wise ones.” LEIGH BUCHANAN is an Inc. editor-at-large.


AS USUAL, THE INC. 500 LIST con­tains a few fa­mil­iar names, such as Ipsy (No. 104), Kab­bage (No. 183), and Dol­lar Shave Club (No. 65, which Unilever re­cently agreed to buy for $1 bil­lion). Other hon­orees are less known but have cracked the shelves of ma­jor re­tail­ers or made them­selves in­dis­pens­able links in For­tune 500 sup­ply chains.

Some Inc. 500 com­pa­nies are try­ing to dis­rupt in­dus­tries. Liv­ionex (No. 441), for ex­am­ple, is breath­ing down tooth­paste’s tube with a plaque-at­tack gel; and Imag­ineAir (No. 390) wants to Uber-ize pri­vate air travel. Other hon­orees are re­al­iz­ing mas­sive growth through the ad­di­tion of panache to proudly quo­tid­ian prod­ucts. This year we have both Chicken Salad Chick (No. 37)

and the Chicken & Rice Guys (No. 206). In ad­di­tion to not­ing the pre­dictable strength of in­dus­tries like health care and fi­nan­cial ser­vices, we’ve no­ticed a few smaller trends:

HEALTHY FOOD, FUN FOOD: As in years past, vir­tu­ous food com­pa­nies dom­i­nate the Inc. 500. But in­dul­gence may be resur­gent. Com­pa­nies that thrived this year with a taste-first mes­sage in­clude Mod Pizza (No. 373), Melba’s New Or­leans Po Boys (No. 123), and Ed­ward Marc Brands (No. 421).

A RE­TAIL RE­LA­TION­SHIP: Sub­scrip­tion and mem­ber­ship mod­els worked for No. 1 com­pany Loot Crate, Dol­lar Shave Club (ra­zor blades), Ipsy (makeup), and Touch of Mod­ern (No. 147; fash­ion). ly for sub­scribers. But the first small wave of cus­tomers left Davis and Arevalo scram­bling to ful­fill or­ders—Davis made a shop­ping trip to the L.A. toy dis­trict and called in ev­ery per­sonal fa­vor he could from prod­uct com­pa­nies. The co-founders begged fam­ily and friends to come pack boxes.

In those early days, the tim­ing of when the crates hit the mail was less of an is­sue. To­day, it’s a com­pli­cated, syn­chro­nized dance. “Part of the fun and ex­cite­ment is the mys­tery,” says Arevalo, who over­sees fan en­gage­ment. “But digital shar­ing means that the mys­tery of what’s in the crate is hard to safe­guard. So the tighter the de­liv­ery win­dow can be, the bet­ter.”

Boot­strap­ping the busi­ness and grow­ing their sub­scriber base also pushed the co-founders to cut it close more than once—un­til a port strike in De­cem­ber 2014 threat­ened to can­cel their Christ­mas ship­ments and thus de­stroy their rep­u­ta­tion en­tirely. “We used to have a lead time of three months, while the in­dus­try stan­dard is closer to 12,” says Davis. “When we fi­nally got ev­ery­thing, we had just three days of pulling all-nighters to get it in the mail, and we had to pay for pri­or­ity ship­ping, which was an out­ra­geous amount of money.”

Though Loot Crate launched at a time when sub­scrip­tion boxes were go­ing gang­busters, Davis knew that longevity would likely go to those com­pa­nies that could stretch their cus­tomers’ joy beyond one day a month of re­ceiv­ing mail. So he set out to ex­tend the brand: Loot Crate launched an app, seeded fan com­mu­ni­ties across Snapchat and Red­dit, and built out an in-house team of de­sign­ers, de­vel­op­ers, and writ­ers to cre­ate cus­tom con­tent. The com­pany re­leases an in­ter­ac­tive game each month, in­cludes a 24-page mag­a­zine in each crate, and pro­duces scripted, mul­ti­cam­era videos with geeky plots. “We think of our­selves now as more of a con­tent and ex­pe­ri­ence plat­form,” says Davis. “Whether it’s print or mo­bile or digital, we want to de­liver this great ex­pe­ri­ence to fans. That’s big­ger than sub­scrip­tion boxes.”

KATE ROCK­WOOD is a free­lance writer based in Chicago.

HOW THE 2016 INC. 500 COM­PA­NIES WERE SE­LECTED This list mea­sures rev­enue growth from 2012 to 2015. To qual­ify, com­pa­nies must have been founded and gen­er­at­ing rev­enue by March 31, 2012, and be U.S.-based, pri­vately held, for profit, and in­de­pen­dent—not sub­sidiaries or divi­sions of other com­pa­nies—as of De­cem­ber 31, 2015. The min­i­mum re­quired 2012 rev­enue is $100,000; the min­i­mum for 2015 is $2 mil­lion. Rev­enue listed in the com­pany pro­files is for calendar year 2015. Em­ployee counts are as of De­cem­ber 31, 2015, and in­clude all em­ploy­ees re­ceiv­ing ben­e­fits. Inc. re­serves the right to re­ject ap­pli­cants for sub­jec­tive rea­sons. The com­pa­nies of the Inc. 500 rep­re­sent the top tier of the Inc. 5000, which can be found in its en­tirety on Inc. com. List man­aged by Marli Guzzetta, Pa­trick Hain­ault, and Alyssa Par­sons, with ad­di­tional re­search by Melissa Stu­dach and Skyler In­man.

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