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How to Face Down Adversity and Launch a Mega-Successful Business

Between building bowling empires and hot dog havens, these founders have a story to tell.


How a Date Led to a Bowling Juggernaut
Bowlmor AMF, No. 423
How a Date Led to a Bowling Juggernaut
The idea for Bowlmor began, as so many things do, with a girl. It was 1994. The girl, Anne, invited me to a birthday party at the Bowlmor bowling alley in Greenwich Village. It was built in 1938 and looked like it hadn't been cleaned since. The décor included a coat of grime and the smell of rotting cheese from the pizza place next door. The bathrooms were disgusting, the furniture was peeling, there was no food, and the "entertainment" was a loop of an '80s music cassette.

Yet it was love at first sight--the bowling alley, not the girl. Shortly before that, as an M.B.A. student at Darden, I'd studied the successful buyout and turnaround of bowling company AMF. I spent the entire party envisioning how I could apply the lessons I learned to turn the place into a beautiful bowling alley.

It took me three years to arrange the purchase. When I got the keys...

(Read more on Tom Shannon and Bowlmor, as told to Reshma Yaqub)
Tom Shannon • Bowlmor AMF • Three-year growth 1,120.1% • 2013 revenue $408.5 million PHOTO: Peter Yang
How I Went From CEO to Hot Dog Hawker...And Back
InterRail, No. 485
How I Went From CEO to Hot Dog Hawker...And Back
In 2000, I founded Wandrian, a Web-based rail pass and ticketing system that powered Eurail for several years. In 2005, I accepted a round of venture funding and stepped down as CEO to focus on biz dev. In 2008, the market crashed, and I was fired.

I negotiated a significant severance package, but three months later, they stopped paying it. No more severance. Then, my wife left me. It's not easy to be an entrepreneur, and it's not easy to be married to an entrepreneur. For a long time, I had carried fear about losing the company--and losing the marriage. When both things actually happened, and I saw that I was still around, I felt relieved, in a strange way. I didn't have to carry that fear anymore. And I went into survival mode...

(Read on for more about InterRail, as told to Carmen Nobel)
Mike Fuller • InterRail • Three-year growth 978.7% • 2013 revenue $17.1 million PHOTO: Adam DeTour

Scaling the Business Meant Rebuilding a Bridge
Centennial Lending Group, No. 64
Scaling the Business Meant Rebuilding a Bridge
I got into the mortgage industry thanks to a friend of my father's, John Crits, who owned a mortgage company. I worked for John in a variety of capacities from 1992 to 2006, and he was there during all the major milestones of my life: marriage, kids, and divorce.

After I worked my way up to the vice president level, though, I decided to join another firm to get more executive-level experience.

My leaving blew up the bridge between us. John felt I'd stranded him after he had invested so much in training me to be a top producer. I took my sales team and more than $120 million in assets with me; that didn't help. At the time, however, I really didn't understand why he was so upset. We didn't speak for several years after that.

My team moved with me to three mortgage companies. After I built one into a well-oiled machine, the absentee owner decided he wanted to run it himself. That's when my dad said, "Why don't you start your own company?" I liked the idea in principle, but I was like, "Because I have two young kids and little money," but he convinced me that my team and I could do it.

(Read what happens next for Susan Meitner's company, as told to Alix Stuart )
Susan Meitner • Centennial Lending Group • Three-year growth 4,845% • 2013 revenue $166.9 million PHOTO: Christopher Leaman

Launching Under Fire Made This Company Strong
Build Group, No. 477
Launching Under Fire Made This Company Strong
We left a stable, healthy company that we referred to as the "warm blanket" and went out into the cold. We didn't know just how cold it would get. It was hard enough starting from scratch. We were used to having resources and getting credit from vendors. But we had to rebuild all of that.

Then, the lawsuit hit us. The construction business is all about people and cash. And, suddenly, we didn't have either. We had to be lean. We were used to having things such as secretaries and company cars. All of that went out the window.

That's when the recession came. It became a do-or-die moment...

(Read on for more on Ross Edwards's Build Group, as told to Darren Dahl)
Ross Edwards • Build Group • Three-year growth 990.3% • 2013 revenue $199.4 million PHOTO: Cody Pickens

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