As applications for the 2011 Inc. 500 | 5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc.com/inc5000apply/2011/index.html). One that caught our eye was Asheville, North Carolina-based Moog Music.
You may have never seen Robert Moog's famous synthesizer, but you can bet that you've heard one.
Robert Moog (rhymes with "vogue") is widely considered a pioneer in the music industry, though not as a front-man or producer. Moog is credited with inventing the Moog synthesizer, a sophisticated, versatile instrument that has largely revolutionized how music has been played and recorded in the last 50 years. And you don't need to dig very deep to find Moog's historic contributions: In 1969, Wendy Carlos used a Moog synth for her song, "Switched-on Bach," which went on to win a Grammy. Later, The Beatles used a Moog synthesizer on Abbey Road. Two years later, a Moog synthesizer was used to score Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange." Since then, the Moog synthesizer has been used in the creation of countless songs, movie scores, and even DJ mashups.
"Bob's musical instruments have catapulted so many styles of music into the future, and his contributions to both players and technicians grow even more profound in retrospect," Salon noted back in 2000.
But the Moog story traces back to more humble origins. Born in New York City, Robert Moog was obsessed with electrical objects. At 14, he started tinkering with a theramin, an instrument invented in the 1920's that creates an eery sound by waving objects near an antenna. From the beginning, Bob was hooked. A few years later, he created his own do-it-yourself kits, which, to his surprise, took off immediately. Later, for fun, he developed the first Moog Modular Synthesizer. When it debuted at the Audio Engineering Society Convention in 1964, Moog took orders on the spot.
"Bob used to say that he got into business by slipping backwards on a banana peel," says Mike Adams, who joined the company in 2002 and now serves as the company's CEO. In 2005, at the age of 71, Robert Moog died from cancer.
Now, with 45 employees and distribution in nearly 50 countries worldwide, Moog Music is on the rise. Last year, the company made over $7 million in revenue, and Adams anticipates growth of up to 40 percent for this year. In a couple of months, the company will open a 25,000 square foot production facility to accommodate the Moog's growth.
Still, the challenges of running a small business in America persist. Adams notes that most of Moog's competitors have shifted production overseas, where factory work is cheaper. But Adams says he plans to keep the company in North Carolina. "Moog is an iconic American brand," he says. "To have it built overseas and slap our name on it would be wrong."
There are more concrete reasons, too. "We make analog synthesizers," Adams says. "And to make an analog musician sound good, you need a musician with ears. If we build 800 synthesizers, they all have subtleties. We all know the Moog sound—we're born with it."
As Moog continues to grow, the company's founder is kept close to heart. "There will never be a Moog without Bob," Adams wrote on the company's site. "He's here; everywhere. His foot prints are on everything we do. His notes are on every schematic; every test fixture; every calibration sheet."