Eric Fortenberry might never have started his company if he hadn't been dumped.
After graduating from the University of Texas in 2005, Fortenberry was well on his way to a promising career in finance, working as an investment banker at MHT Partners, and like most young financial advisers, his days were consumed by work. His girlfriend at the time decided to call it quits.
"She said, 'All you care about is work and making money. You should call my ex-boyfriend. That's all he cared about too,'" Fortenberry recalls. "So I called him. We hit it off immediately."
The other guy, it turned out, was Tom O'Neill, a talented software engineer at the University of Rochester, who would eventually become Fortenberry's co-founder at OrgSync.
Today, OrgSync makes an online platform that enables universities and student organizations to communicate with and efficiently organize their members. Student leaders can manage a group's budget, post events, track member involvement, and send out group messages, among other things, on OrgSync.
O'Neill originally developed the technology behind OrgSync to use for his school's National Honor Society in 2005. When Fortenberry got a look at it, though, he wanted desperately to turn O'Neill's idea into a business. O'Neill had a job lined up at Microsoft upon graduating, and wouldn't be able to run OrgSync after that. So Fortenberry bought half the business (for a whopping $500), quit his job at MHT, leased a 5-bedroom house in Austin that would serve as OrgSync's headquarters, and hired his friend Cayce Stone, an Army Reserve member who had recently returned from Iraq, to be OrgSync's third co-founder. With his dad's help, he got a $40,000 credit card loan, and got to work.
OrgSync, which outgrew the house in Austin and relocated to Dallas in 2010, is now being used by more than 2 million registered users across 40,000 member organizations on 350 college campuses worldwide. A typical university pays about $10,000 to $15,000 a year, and the company has a 95 percent renewal rate. Last year, OrgSync generated $3.5 million in revenue, and a substantial amount of growth, Fortenberry, now the company's CEO, says, comes from word of mouth. "Our clients tell other peer institutions what we're doing all the time," he says. "Student life departments have been asking their IT teams for something like this for years, and they're always deprioritized."
OrgSync's first big client, the University of Arizona, signed up for the service back in 2008 after receiving tons of pitches from OrgSync's bigger, more established competitors, says Corey Seemiller, the university's director of leadership programs. "The other companies were flat, static, and had no interest in pushing forward to address emerging student issues. Eric and OrgSync wanted to be transformative," says Seemiller. "They listened to our feedback and continue to do so. It was brilliant. Here we are as customers, and they saw our feedback not as a suggestion box of ideas that insulted their creative expertise, but as free consulting and testing of their products."
As for what's next for the company, Fortenberry hopes to expand OrgSync's presence at universities abroad, but says he has no plans to branch out beyond the world of academia. "My dad always tells me, 'Son, you can't boil the ocean.' As much as I want to boil that ocean, I think it's better to do one thing really well than a bunch of things mediocre," he says, adding, "Plus, it's so easy to be passionate about education."
2012 Jeremy Johnson of 2tor, Ben Milne of Dwolla, Lucas Buick and Ryan Dorshorst co-founders of Hipstamatic, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski, co-founders of Codeacademy, and Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founders of BaubleBar join our illustrious annual list. Plus the start-up stories of Pinterest, Spotify, GiveFoward, and Back to the Roots.
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2010 Meet Alexa von Tobel of Learnvest, Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare, Jack Abraham of Mint.com, plus the founders of Rent the Runway, Airbnb, Crowdflower, Posterous, LivingSocial, and Urban Escapes (now part of Living Social).
2009 Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Elliott Bisnow of Summit Series, Danielle and Jodie Snyder of Dannijo, Jamail Larkins of Larkins Enterprises were included on our 2009 list, as were the teams behind ModCloth, Thrillist, IdeaPaint, Foodzie, and Justin.TV.