Search the list
The co-founders of SingleHop, a Web-hosting company, became business partners before they ever met.
All Grown Up Dan Ushman, left, and Zak Boca
2012 Rank: No. 546
3-Year Growth: 684%
2011 Revenue: $22 million
Zak Boca and Dan Ushman, co-founders of the Chicago Web-hosting company SingleHop, had a lot in common growing up. They were both teenage entrepreneurs. (Boca is now 28; Ushman is a year younger.) They were both running online advertising companies in high school. They were both making good money doing it. And they were both looking for a friend. So it didn't particularly matter that they lived 450 miles apart.
Boca: It's a pretty geeky story. Dan and I first met, when we were about 12 years old, in this AOL programming chat room. Everyone had a screen name. Mine was Biz, and Dan's was CoderEggo.
Ushman: We'd prank each other, make programs to knock each other offline, and show off how skilled we were. We had a lot of fun.
Boca: Fast-forward four years, and we'd fallen out of touch but were both running our own online ad businesses in high school. By chance, we started e-mailing and referring business to one another, but we didn't recognize each other's real names. Neither one of us admitted we were 17, either.
Ushman: As we got more familiar, we came clean and realized we'd actually known each other years before. I remember I stopped feeling so alone. Throughout high school, we spoke daily but never made plans to meet until we launched our first Web-hosting company, MidPhase, in the beginning of college.
Boca: I didn't have any reservations about launching a company with someone I hadn't actually met. We knew each other so well already. We did all the planning over the phone, then, the day before we launched, in May 2003, I flew to Chicago from my home in Kentucky. Dan came to meet me at the airport. I got in the car, and he immediately said, "Wow, you are fat," then he turned on this hard-core Slipknot music and drove like a bat out of hell out of the parking lot. That night Dan's buddies came over and dragged us to some hookah bar, and I quickly realized Dan's a lot more laid back than I am, because all I could think was, we needed to get back to work.
Ushman: But that's why we complement each other so well. What I lack, Zak makes up, and vice versa.
Boca: We turned the website on, and, that day, we landed four customers. Within six months, we had 1,000. We both dropped out of school, and in January, I drove up to Chicago to open our first office, roaches and all. We grew MidPhase to $16 million in three years, but we were always itching to start something new, so we launched SingleHop in 2006 to serve larger clients. We sold MidPhase the next year.
Ushman: All along, I think what Zak and I have had going for us is, there's a lot of ingrained trust you get from knowing someone as long as we have.
Boca: It's true. So many partnerships suffer from trust issues, but that's not even a concern for either of us. We know each other better than just about anyone. We've grown up together.
Ushman: There are definitely times when I want to go out and do something on my own, but then I think about all we've been through, and I know there's no way in hell I could have done it without Zak.
Issie Lapowsky is a reporter at Inc. magazine. She has covered lifestyle and entertainment for the New York Daily News, and her work has been published in BlackBook magazine and The Brooklyn Rail. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
See the September 2011 Issue
Inc. 5000: The Engines of the Economy
Inc. 500 STATS
Inc. 500|5000 slideshow
The 2011 Inc. 5000: Top 10 Female Entrepreneurs
From healthcare to baby food to technology consulting, these
women entrepreneurs have forged their way to the top of their
Inc. 500|5000 Videos
Barry Hartzberg, Satory Global
The COO describes how he created a comfortable, family feeling at Satory Global, the management and consulting IT firm he co-founded.
Inc. 500|5000 Twitter Feeds
Inc. 500|5000 Archives