For many of the rising stars on our inaugural 30 Under 30 list, the success has only continued. We asked our past honorees to send in updates about their companies -- how they've grown over the past year, if being named to the list had any impact on business, and what advice they'd share with other young entrepreneurs. Here's what they had to say.
#1 Tom Szaky, TerraCycle
Here's what we've been up to:
Being on the 30 Under 30 was an amazing experience and gave our company tremendous exposure that helped us continue our aggressive rate of growth. (Thanks, Inc.!)
All I can say to young entrepreneurs is work hard, don't let yourself get discouraged, and push the envelope beyond the expected.
#2 Jared Isaacman, United Bank Card
United Bank Card has performed exceptionally well over the last year, with each month resulting in new milestones for growth and sales. Since being named to the 30 Under 30 list, United Bank Card has nearly doubled our processing volume and merchant portfolio. We have grown from 40,000 merchants processing $4 billion to over 75,000 merchants processing over $6.5 billion. We are continually developing advanced payment services in order to help our merchant clients attract new customers.
We have developed the "Pennies for Humanity" program, which gives business owners the opportunity to donate a portion from every transaction they complete to either the American Cancer Society, Make a Wish Foundation, National Federation of the Blind, or National Cancer Coalition. We also created a free gift card program that helps our merchants build loyalty among their consumers. Additionally, UBC also recently launched a card-issuing program, which allows business owners to apply for a business rewards card directly from their UBC merchant services application.
Our future plans include an entry into the POS systems market, expanding our presence in the petroleum market, and completing several exciting acquisitions in the coming months.
United Bank Card has benefited both from being named No. 6 on the Inc. 500 list as well as me being named a 30 Under 30 winner by having our brand promoted to business owners throughout the country. Being recognized by Inc. magazine two years in a row has given United Bank Card an edge in terms of creditability and name recognition over our competition.
It is important to enter a field that you feel you can have a positive impact on. Think of ways to improve your chosen industry and bring new value to your clientele. When you develop a new product, service, or enhancement, work diligently to be first-to-market with your innovation. These items all boil down to opportunity. It's hard to innovate or make a significant impact in an industry or market that is saturated or has already matured. Choose your industry well, identify your opportunity, put together a well thought out business plan and execute.
#4 Jacquelyn Tran, Perfume Bay
Business at Perfume Bay has continued to grow this past year. I am proud to report we have increased sales and our customer base. We also have expanded our product collection to include many specialty and international brands.
We currently are revamping our website, adding many new informational features and tools. We want consumers to come to Perfume Bay not only for products but also for fragrance and beauty advice, news, and ideas. We also are moving into a larger warehouse allowing us to expand our selection to include many more specialty and international products as well as open a showroom for Orange County, Calif.-area shoppers.
Being named one of Inc.'s 30 Under 30 has been a wonderful experience. It helped greatly increase Perfume Bay's visibility among vendors and consumers. It also led to additional media exposure within industry publications as well as other local, regional, and national publications. This all led to our continuing growth in Web traffic and sales. Perhaps the most valuable, it has helped strengthen credibility for the business and enhance customer confidence.
My advice for young entrepreneurs is always remember to have fun in what they are doing. Surround yourself with great mentors, friends, and family.
#5 Ryan DeLuca, Bodybuilding.com
Business has been better than ever since I received this recognition from Inc. Last year we hit our goal of $65 million in sales, and this year we are on track for $90 million. Our EBITDA has continued to climb as well. We have grown to over 140 great employees!
Right now, we are focused on becoming a $100 million company in the very near future. To do this, we are continuing to follow our strategy of helping people reach their health, fitness, and appearance goals through information (articles, video, community help), motivation (success stories, BodySpace friends, goal setting, and tracking tools), and supplementation (help choosing the right supplements, great prices, selection, and service). We are adding many new features to our site, including social workout tracking software, more video shows and live event webcasts, new community features, and much more. Our biggest challenge right now is the fact that we have so many ideas (generated from our customers and employees) and most of them depend on our IT and Web-development department!
Other than the great recognition inside Inc. magazine (my favorite magazine and my business bible since we started), we have also received more press from other media outlets. I was featured in a local news story and there is also a mention on Wikipedia about it. This award has also been used to introduce me when I'm giving presentations or at business dinners. That's pretty cool! It has helped build my confidence. This is something that can never be taken away from me no matter what happens in the future.
My biggest piece of advice to other young entrepreneurs is to read constantly on subjects that apply to your current strategies and problems. Read business magazines to get ideas and see how others are solving problems. Many times, there is no reason to re-invent the wheel. You aren't the first to run into each specific problem, so find out how others have solved it and learn from their mistakes.
Focus on getting the right people on board and everything else will be a lot easier. I had to learn this the hard way. Like many entrepreneurs, I wanted to do it all myself since I didn't trust anybody to do it as well. Once I realized that I couldn't do it all, I started training and delegating, and it was easier than I thought it would be… and it made it possible for us to grow faster than ever. Give your people autonomy and ownership of certain tasks and projects, and they'll surprise you.
Focus on your customers' needs more than ANYTHING else and they will take care of you in the long run. If you have an idea for your business that doesn't help your customers reach their goals, then forget about it.
Pick a small niche and stick with it. Be the best in the world at servicing that niche. Don't try to be everything to everyone. When you are a billion-dollar company, you can compete at that level. When you are small, you have to stay focused on a smaller subset of the market that isn't as important to the billion-dollar companies.
Create detailed and specific short-term and long-term goals and measurements for yourself and your team. It's amazing how employee behavior changes when you create a goal and then measure against it. Just the act of being measured helps keep people motivated and helps them understand how they are doing so they can improve.
Create a mission and vision for your company that isn't just about making money. What's the real value of your business? If your business was suddenly gone tomorrow, would anybody really care? Are you really that valuable to your customers and employees, or are you just another copycat business like all the others? Build a company that matters. Build a company that your customers and employees would fight for. Your employees won't fight for a company that is just based on making money for shareholders or the business owners. They need something to care about. Everybody wants to belong to something bigger than themselves that is doing something unique, important, or exciting. Otherwise it's just about how much they get paid. Once the company down the block offers than a slight pay increase, they'll be gone.
Differentiate yourself from your competitors. No, not based just on price. Anybody can try to offer a lower price than the other guys. That's not a strategy. Create value in other ways that your customers want. Create a brand that means something. You'll be able to have higher margins than your less creative competitors and you'll be around a lot longer.
#7 Nicolas Thomley, Pinnacle Services
My business has continued to thrive since being selected to last year's 30 Under 30. Our growth rate is at about 20 percent and continuing to climb. We have expanded on the services we offer and gained additional contracts. Overall, it has been a great year.
We have several expansion plans, including geographic expansion of our current services. We are planning on moving the company headquarters to a new location that will allow for continued growth in to the future. We are also planning on expanding the services that we offer to new areas of our industry that we have not yet entered. In addition, we are planning on creating new ventures that will support the primary focus of the core business.
Being a 30 Under 30 winner has helped my business in several ways. It has provided a higher level of credibility to me and my organization. It has opened up doors to new opportunities for me such as speaking engagements and partnerships on new ventures. We are working harder than ever at expanding and growing the business to in to new areas and markets and the credibility of being named to the 30 Under 30 has given me a leg up.
What advice would I give other young entrepreneurs? Follow your dreams and take chances -- it's a lot easier to take risks while you're young.
#8 Marc Katz, customInk.com
CustomInk.com keeps making progress in the world of custom T-shirts. We've grown by about 40 percent since last year's 30 Under 30 and now deliver about 5 million custom shirts per year. At that rate, we could outfit the whole country in just 60 years… so, OK, we still have room to grow.
We recently launched a new service called customInk Singles that lets people design and order single shirts for individual use or gifts, as opposed to having to order in bulk for a group or event. Our customers have requested this a long time, and we now we have the system and printing capabilities to do it.
I guess if I were to pick one piece of advice for other young entrepreneurs, I would suggest getting a close adviser who has good entrepreneurial experience, is really smart, and is someone you really trust. For me, that's my dad, and being able to discuss and debate business matters with him is really helpful. I think there are a lot of groups (like YPO for instance) that connect experienced business people with entrepreneurs for coaching and mentoring.
#12 Robin Liss, CamcorderInfo.com/DigitalCameraInfo.com
After establishing CamcorderInfo.com and DigitalCameraInfo.com as bastions of independent, ethical, consumer technology review publishing, I decided it was time to grow. In the spring of 2007, I launched PrinterInfo.com, which provides reviews of printers, a handy ink and toner finder, and independent printer industry news coverage designed to demystify printer shopping and facilitate printer use for consumers. I also created WirelessInfo.com, which features wireless industry news coverage, comprehensive reviews of cell phones, and wireless plan reviews to bring clarity to the world of mobile communications.
To handle the job of reviewing an increased lineup of products and covering the breaking news of additional consumer technology industries, I recently doubled my staff to 20 full-time employees. We also set up an outpost in New York City, and moved to a new office location in Boston to accommodate additional personnel and a state-of-the-art testing lab.
Certainly, graduating from Tufts University and literally having more time available to devote to my businesses fueled the expansion. More potential business partners know my name, my companies, and our reputation compared to one year ago, and each day, more consumers turn to my publications for trusted advice.
My advice to other young entrepreneurs is: be fearless. If you have an idea, don't hesitate to get started on it. When I launched CamcorderInfo.com as a young teenager, I didn't stop to think about failure. As I grew older, and thought about launching more publications, I had more experience and could imagine all the things that might go wrong. But I decided not to be afraid.
If I had been cautious, I never would have made the list.
#13 Luke Skurman, College Prowler
College Prowler's annual growth continues to outpace our expectations, thanks to robust demands from consumers for our core products and our new offerings. These offerings have provided several new revenue streams for the company. Our recently re-launched website is creating a healthy revenue stream from paid subscriptions. The new website also provides advertisers with customizable ad opportunities that are generating new revenue while also drawing strong praise from our advertisers. Our exclusive content is also contributing significant revenue to the bottom line through licensing agreements. In addition to these three new sources of revenue, College Prowler expanded its core offering of guidebooks by adding 50 new titles. In the coming year, we plan to expand even more, including building out our team to meet demand and look for even different ways to leverage our exclusive student-generated content.
At College Prowler, we follow the advice that we give to young entrepreneurs -- we understand that failure is part of success. Taking risks with new ideas means that guarantees for success go out the window first. Have confidence in your innovations, but be prepared to learn from your mistakes. Our efforts at College Prowler focus on creating innovative products that have room to grow in the marketplace while we learn from consumers. We recognize that every good idea may not be received by the marketplace, so we look to improve on every idea in order to leverage each opportunity to its fullest.
#14 Lou Honick, HostMySite.com
Business has been great since last year. My company is up to about 180 employees and still growing. We just opened a major data-center expansion in January, which is already about 40 percent full. We are planning a new corporate headquarters (about 20,000 square feet to start, expandable to 60,000) and another major data center build by the end of this year. We projected revenue to top $21 million this year (about 60 percent growth over fiscal year 2006) and we are well on track to meet or beat that goal. Most of the growth has been achieved through strong word of mouth, especially in the enterprise Web-hosting space, due to our focus on providing outstanding service. While I know most businesses talk about customer service, we really live and breathe it here.
Being on the 30 Under 30, I think it was a great experience and has yielded some recognition. I speak at various Internet and Web-hosting industry events and the fact that I was on the list last year has been mentioned several times at those events.
What advice would I give to other young entrepreneurs? Probably to focus as much as possible on improving your people skills. When I was in my early 20s, I was very brash, overbearing, and difficult to work with, mostly as a result of my passion for the business and for ensuring a good customer experience. I would yell, throw things, even punch holes in the wall when things went wrong. I'm still passionate about my business and keeping our status as a customer service powerhouse in our industry, but I take a better approach to dealing with problems. I would say it is important to look at problems and failures as opportunities to improve rather than opportunities to lay someone out for doing a bad job. It's also a much happier day at work when my blood isn't constantly boiling, and we're still accomplishing great things. I think age and experience (I just turned 30 this year) mellow you out but it would have been great if I could have figured some of these things a bit earlier.
#16 James Messina, Messina Wildlife
Business has been up since the article came out last year! Since being selected to the 30 Under 30 list, my sales are up over 65%, and we expect to have over $2 million in sales by the end of this year. We were able to add Lowe's and QVC to our list of customers and are working with Home Depot (NYSE:HD), Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI), and K-Mart for additional rollouts in 2008. The best advice I can give other young entrepreneurs can be summed up in three thoughts:
First and foremost, follow through on your promises. No matter how big or how difficult, do what you say you are going to do. Your word is the one thing you can offer people that no one else can. There's plenty of competition out there, but you there's only one you. You are the most important part of your business. People won't forget the times you come through for them… or the times you don't.
Second, welcome setbacks. The good times are easy to enjoy. But not everything you're going to is going to turn out wonderful and some things will out and out fail. WELCOME THESE TIMES. LEARN FROM THEM. Those moments will do more good for you in making you a better businessperson then any string of successes. If you're only looking forward to success, you're going to have a rude awakening eventually. But a setback isn't the end of the world, it's a lesson that can teach some of the most exciting things about you, your product or your company that you never saw before.
Third, don't get comfortable! The second you start relaxing and loose your drive, you're only going to make one person happy: your competition. In today's business environment, you have to stay a step ahead or you'll find yourself a step behind. Your competition is watching you, whether you know it or not. I know mine is. So far this year, they've changed their marketing approach after seeing ours and tried to hire my PR firm away from us. If you're good at what you do, the same will happen to you, and when it does realize it means you've arrived! No one pays attention to failures.
#17 Mark Spencer, Digium
Digium's business has been growing rapidly since 30 Under 30. We have literally doubled in size and have broken ground on a new Digium world headquarters in Huntsville, Ala. A new leadership team has been put in place, including naming Danny Windham, former president, chief operating officer and director of ADTRAN as the new CEO. In my new role as Digium chief technology officer and chairman of the board, I am 100% dedicated to my quest of developing open source telephony solutions for the enterprise market.
To that end, Digium's Asterisk open source technology is currently being used in business, government, and educations settings in 140 countries and we most recently signed a partnership with NTT to become the first company to bring open source telephony to Japan. Two million servers are running Digium's Asterisk open source telephony platform worldwide with more than 3,000 downloads taking place every day.
We released several new Asterisk-based business solutions in 2007, including AsteriskNOW, featuring an easy-to-install version of Asterisk with a Digium-designed graphical user interface that makes Asterisk more user friendly, as well as the Asterisk Appliance, a Digium-designed hardware appliance that incorporates Asterisk Business Edition into the hardware needed to run phone service for small to medium-sized businesses.
Being featured in 30 Under 30 was an honor! I appreciate the recognition of my hard work and the exposure has certainly opened doors for Digium. If I had to give some advice to young entrepreneurs, it would be "get featured in the 30 Under 30!" Seriously though, what I've learned from our rapidly growing business is the importance of working with the most talented people in your industry and putting a focus on delegating responsibility based on both passion and skill.
The easiest part is giving up the things that you neither enjoy, nor are good at. The next hardest thing is giving up the things you don't enjoy but are still pretty good at. The next hardest thing after that is giving up the things that you enjoy, but aren't especially good at. Finally, the hardest part of all is giving up the things that you both enjoy and are good at, because there's simply too many of them for you to do all by yourself. But, with all that done, I get to spend my time on truly the things which are the most enjoyable to me, and which I'd like to think are the most important for me to do for the company!
#19 Angela Batinovich, Portland LumberJax
Things have been great. We have doubled our season ticket-holder base and expanded our front office!
Our record was not very good as a team (4-12) but we still managed to have 12,000 at our final game of the season last year. We were awarded the All-Star Game last season and it was the first All-Star event in Portland's history.
We are looking into an outdoor team -- a prospective new venture from the National Lacrosse League.
My advice for other young entrepreneurs is that with hard work, anything is possible. ANYTHING. Plus, there are more wealthy people looking for "fun" investments than you think. Have a good and realistic five-year business plan and start networking!
#20 Mark Herthel, Platinum Performance
Business has been very good. We are continuing to grow at a good rate.
New Expansion Plans: We are beginning construction of a new 43,000 square-foot manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters. We are hiring new talent and are promoting from within to enable us to continue to grow, stay innovative, and provide exceptional service to our clients.
New Projects: We are starting clinical trials on some of our new products to look at how we can decrease inflammation and free radical damage and improve human health and performance. We have been studying the effects of diet on gene expression (Nutragenomics) over the past couple of years, and have found a dramatic correlation between what you eat and the messages that your genes send to your body.
I was honored to be included on the 30 Under 30 list. I have heard from a lot of people that saw the article.
Advice for other young entrepreneurs:
#22 Geoff Wilson, 352 Media Group
It has been an incredible year for 352 Media Group. We have grown by leaps and bounds since the 30 Under 30 list came out last year (and some of our growth is thanks to the list!). In fact, I was just notified that our company made the new Inc. 5,000 list that is coming out in a few months!
We are a custom Web site development company and interactive marketing agency, and the demand for Web site services and marketing is growing exponentially. In the past year we landed several major national accounts, and our top client this year to date has been American Express. We have also done a considerable amount of work for Microsoft, Outback Steakhouse, and more than 300 other businesses ranging from start-up companies to large enterprises.
We also redeveloped our own Web site in January, www.352media.com, and integrated a 'Web video host' into it. This is a new technology that is gaining popularity on the Web, and we are on the forefront of it. I encourage you to visit our site and to see the video on the home page and the 'Company' page which showcases this new technology.
Expansion wise, we opened a new office in Atlanta, Georgia with 3 employees right around the time the '30 Under 30' article came out, and we now have 12 people in our Atlanta office! We also hired full-time Account Managers in Seattle, Washington, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Jacksonville, Florida to facilitate our expansion.
The '30 Under 30' article last year gave us some great exposure and momentum. We received several sales inquiries after the article ran, and the article was also a point of pride for our staff who worked so hard to get us to where we are today.
#24 Josh Kowitt
Business is great. Sales are up over last year. We've found that making the 30 Under 30 list has given us increased credibility with our customers -- but it is by no means a magic bullet to your marketing/sales strategy. Advice for young entrepreneurs -- the list is just the beginning.
#25 Kelvin Joseph and #26 Samanta Joseph, Samanta Shoes
Business has expanded tremendously since being selected to the 30 Under 30. Samanta Shoes was originally designed for sophisticated women that have dynamic lifestyles. This year, we developed a collection for the fashionable businessmen. Samanta also added a new niche by offering large-size women's shoes in sizes 11, 12, and 13. These additional product offerings have increased sales by 30 percent.
We plan to expand our wholesale distribution from 20 to 40 independent retailers. In addition, we are in discussions with two major department stores, who are interested in carrying our products. These developments may result in a 300 percent increase in sales in 2008.
Being listed as a 30 Under 30 winner added instant credibility to our company. As result, we made the New York Post young entrepreneurs list, and were invited to speak at various conferences. One of these conferences helped us make direct contact with one of the largest department stores in the country.
We advise young entrepreneurs to live balanced lives. Don't allow your successful business to keep you from having a successful life. Money does not equal happiness. Having a good relationship with God and family should be your top two priorities.
#28 Michael Hyacinthe, Urban Liberty
First and foremost, I would like to thank Inc.com for such a wonderful recognition. Since then, our company has been doing really well. We are reaching our goals and establishing different avenues to promote our brand. We have just completed a major partnership with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. This partnership would give us direct access to all the man and women who serve in the military along with spouses and dependents around the world.
On May 4, Urban Liberty opened its first retail store at the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, N.Y. The store opened with a live fashion show for the troops. The turnout was overwhelming. Military personnel and family members enjoyed a night of fashion and comedy that promoted our support for their efforts and promoted our new store. Although it has been a short time, our store has proven to be popular with all post personnel. Sales figures have exceeding our projections by 15%.
We are currently in negotiations for opening up a second and larger store at the Fort Drum Army Base located in upstate New York. Construction has already been started and we are expected to open up in spring 2008. Our expansion goals are to establish a chain of retail stores on different military bases through out the world. We plan to offer our website as an extension to our retail stores for those stationed in remote locations. Our company goal is to try and open up one to two stores per year.
Being among this very elite group of individuals have allowed to expand my networking capabilities and establish promising relationships with other alumni. My advice to this new group of honorees are to always work hard, study your market, and minimize expenses unless the benefit outweighs the cost.
#29 Erik McMillan and #30 Christina McMillan, Silent Technology
Since our election to the 30 Under 30 list, we received a large amount of publicity from news organizations, new clients, and potential buyers. We have several new projects in the mix, including expansion and growing our product line. Thank you for highlighting us as top performers -- it has helped push us to the next level.
Our advice for other young entrepreneurs is to "follow your dreams and start NOW." It is much easier to start your own business at a young age and learn from your mistakes as you go. If you wait to start your own thing until later in life, chances are you'll have a family, a job, a mortgage, or other complications where taking big risks is harder to justify. Plus, the faster you start, the sooner you'll get there. The later you start -- yes, you guessed it, the LATER you'll get there.