Open here to read the full 2016 Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies.
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.
WHAT POWERED THIS YEAR’S GROWTH
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.