Start-up Leaders Give Thanks
For Thanksgiving, we asked a handful of start-up leaders (and Inc. 500 alums) to share the a-ha moments, twists of fate, or strokes of genius that saved their businesses. Here's what they said:
Julie Bauer | Grok
What she's thankful for: Room to grow
When Julie Bauer founded her ad agency in 2009, she worked out of her New York City apartment.
"We had no idea what we were doing," she says. She wasn't sure that her "little company" would survive.
One afternoon, a client asked where to take a call in private. Without thinking, Bauer gestured toward her bedroom. "A moment later, I looked at my partners and said, 'I think it's time we find some office space,'" she recalls. "As I was mentioning that, the client came out and said, 'Julie, I think we pay you guys a bit of money, and honestly, I think it's time you hire a couple of people and find yourself an office."
A light bulb a went off for Bauer. She realized her company was going to make it.
She's now on her second office space and Grok made the Inc. 500 this year. "When we moved into the second office space, we had 28 people working for us," she says. "I looked around and I thought, 'We really are real now.'"
Max Haot | Livestream
What he's thankful for: Second beginnings
Max Haot's live video broadcast site, Livestream, didn't always go by that name. It was originally called Mogulus.
Haot liked the name, which was a play on the term media moguls. But most customers missed that reference. They found the name confusing.
"In the beginning, I would just ignore the feedback and think, 'Well, if Google can build a company like this with a silly name, why can't we?" he says.
But Haot eventually realized the name was hindering the company and told the board it was time to change Mogulus. Everybody agreed.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, a company isn't really its name. It's a product, a team, a service," says Haot. "But a name is a brand, it's the foundation of the company." Today, his company draws more than 30 million viewers a month.
Lexy Funk | Brooklyn Industries
What she's thankful for: A flash of inspiration
In 1997, artists Lexy Funk and Vahap Avsar were walking around New York City when they stumbled on a piece of billboard material.
"We were trying to figure out if we should stretch it or make a painting," she says. Instead, they decided to make it into a messenger bag. They liked how it turned out, so they made more.
After producing 12 samples at her studio apartment in Manhattan, Funk brought the bags to a trade show. Soon the bags were selling in stores throughout New York City.
"That's what launched our career in bags and apparel," Funk says. She and Avsar rented a loft space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a big ground floor garage and started selling the bags there. "For three years, we were in that factory," she says. "We even lived there." Their company, Brooklyn Industries, now has more than $15 million in annual sales.
Hoby Darling | Skullcandy
What he's thankful for: A close-knit team
When SkullCandy tapped Hoby Darling (then a general manager of Nike+ Digital Sport) to lead the headphone company, sales were down 30 percent.
"When I got in, it became pretty clear that we didn't have the culture we needed to have to optimize the company," he says. "We had marketing, creative, and international in California. We had our sales leaders on the East Coast. We were a disjointed organization."
Darling felt the only way to align the culture would be to get everyone under one roof at the company's headquarters in Park City, Utah.
Darling closed the California office and asked the remaining staff to relocate.
"It was a hard call," he says, but it was the right one. "Our Number 1 mission is culture is talent. We hire, fire, and promote by that vision."
Phillippe von Borries| Refinery29
What he's thankful for: A benevolent angel
In 2005, Von Borries and Justin Stefano wanted to launch a site to promote cool brands and local shops, but had trouble getting funding. All they had was a few thousand dollars.
But they convinced designer Steven Alan, of the famed men's apparel line, to do a fashion photoshoot in Chinatown.
In between takes, "we pitched him on the idea of Refinery 29 and discovering and unearthing great finds," says von Borries. Then came the ask: Would he be their investor?
To everyone's surprise, Alan said yes. He agreed to invest $160,000.
"It was probably the most important meeting we ever had," says von Borries. "It was a tiny investment that we somehow made last for two years."
Blake Irving | GoDaddy
What he's thankful for: A talented team--1,400 miles away
For Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy, hiring Arnold Blinn to be chief architect of the company was a no-brainer. For more than 17 years, Blinn had thrived at Microsoft Corporation. Irving, the president, calls Blinn "one of those successful types who didn't have to work."
Blinn agreed to relocate from Seattle to Scottsdale, Arizona, where GoDaddy is headquartered. But as soon as the news was announced, Irving's inbox was flooded with offers from people who wanted to work for him...up in Seattle.
"I got so many of those emails, I asked the CFO how much it would cost to move a few people," Irving recalls. "I said, 'I think we're better off opening an office in Washington.'"
Within a day, he made the decision. This month, GoDaddy opened a 10,000-square-foot office in Seattle.
Jamie Moyle | RealtyTrac
What he's thankful for: The walls coming down
When Jamie Moyle joined RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosure properties, the lease was up in the office. RealtyTrac's employees had worked there for nearly 10 years.
"We needed a face lift, but the office spaces we were looking at were set up just like this one," he says.
He asked the landlord to knock down the walls and turn the office into a large open space.
"It was wonderful for communication," says Moyle, and "interacting with everyone has shown the real gems."
Moyle, who joined the company in 2012 when his site Homefacts was acquired, says he and his team weren't used the walls.
"We were just a few guys in a room. It didn't feel right to have a bunch of closed doors."
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