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How the Top Tech Firms of the Inc. 500 Surprise and Delight

From myth-busting apps to rave kids' light-up gloves, these founders use technology in fascinating ways. Check out the most unconventional fast-growing tech firms of the Inc. 500.


He's Got That Gloving Feeling
EmazingLights, No. 189
He's Got That Gloving Feeling
I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur. But after college, I didn't know what to sell. So I got a job consulting at Deloitte. The prestige was there, the pay was good, and the security made my parents happy.

Growing up, I'd been into techno and trance music. I'd mostly forgotten about it, but then electronic dance music, or EDM, had its big resurgence, and I became a fan again. On New Year's Eve 2010, I met my girlfriend at the Together as One festival here in L.A.

Back then, she really wanted to get these light-up gloves to dance with at raves. She'd ordered a pair for like $130. But they weren't coming. The website's customer service was awful. Finally, we drove two hours to pick them up. I had no idea why she wanted them so badly or why they cost so much.

Then we went dancing at this club in L.A. called Avalon. She put those gloves on me. I've never been a dancer or a performer, but I was able to wow crowds just by waving my hands around in the dark. It was magic. It's like your hands are paintbrushes, and your imagination is the canvas. People were actually impressed! That feeling is very rare. It got a little addicting...

(Read on for the full story of Brian Lim's EmazingLights, as told to Burt Helm)
Brian Lim • EmazingLights • Three-year growth 2,281.3% • 2013 revenue $5.8 million PHOTO: Justin Stephens

A Few Good Apps
Phunware, No. 82
A Few Good Apps
I knew what I was getting into when we launched Phunware in 2009: the kinds of chaos and rapidly changing situations that you learn to manage in the Army. But in business, you know you'll be able to sleep, eat, see your family at night. And, most important, you don't have somebody shooting at you.

We heard about an 11th-hour request from Discovery Communications to develop a mobile gaming app for the series MythBusters. I learned about it on a Thursday. Proposals were due the following Tuesday. We'd be going up against companies like Electronic Arts, which had been working on pitches for weeks. If we tried to mount a full frontal assault, we'd never survive. But if we slipped around back in the dead of night, we might have a chance. We proposed a MythBusters app that allowed viewers to interact, buy merchandise, and, yeah, we threw in a few games, so we didn't completely miss the mark.

This became our first big win. The MythBusters app quickly spiked to No. 1 in the App Store...

(Read on for more on Alan S. Knitowski's unlikely ascent with Phunware, as told to Ryan Underwood)
Alan S. Knitowski • Phunware • Three-year growth 4,040% • 2013 revenue $22.1 million PHOTO: Trey Wright

Protecting People, From the Bronx to the Beltway
Securityhunter, No. 123
Protecting People, From the Bronx to the Beltway
When you grow up as a Jew in the Bronx, you see guys with tattoos on their arms from Auschwitz. You get the feeling that if it weren't for the United States, your people would be gone. So I had this blood debt. I really wanted to protect people.

In the late '80s, I pieced together new technologies for a video surveillance business. Ninety-five percent corporate work. Going after vandalism and sabotage. Putting in cameras where you wouldn't see them: beepers, briefcases, clock radios, water coolers. Going in at night, frequently with armed private investigators. It was so wicked cool.

In 2001, we created an electronic security product that the State Department used to protect Colin Powell when he was traveling. Then, I got projects on military bases and learned all about federal contracts.

(Read on for the full story of Michael S. Rogers's Securityhunter, as told to Leigh Buchanan)
Michael S. Rogers • Securityhunter • Three-year growth 2,998.3% • 2013 revenue $35.9 million PHOTO: Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Metallica and Other Forms of Hardware
Webyshops, No. 381
Metallica and Other Forms of Hardware
I grew up in Moscow. My dad worked as an engineer for the factory that made engines for the Mir space station. My mom taught math. Hunting was for the upper echelons of the Communist Party. It wasn't a big part of our childhood.

In 1989, I was 15. A school in Boston sent a few students to my school for three weeks. They arrived and met a bunch of us in the library. We just stared at each other--like, what's there to talk about? So I said, "Hey, do you guys listen to Metallica?"

That broke the ice. I showed them Moscow. I just found them fascinating. The head of their delegation suggested me to an exchange program in Missouri. I went, and the next summer I went to a program at Westminster College in that state. A professor there suggested I apply there. Thanks to my grades, I got a full ride...

(Read on for more on how Mikhail Orlov's first foray with America led to a business of importing and selling Russian military hardware and clothing.--As told to Burt Helm)
Mikhail Orlov • Webyshops • Three-year growth 1,255.2% • 2013 revenue $10.7 million PHOTO: Jeff Wilson

How I Know When Your Customers Are Angry
Cogito, No. 298
How I Know When Your Customers Are Angry
There was a lot of really cool technology at MIT. But I was in a neuroscience seminar taught by Dr. Carl Marci, and he discussed how computers could determine a person's emotional state based on speech patterns. I thought, My God, this is incredible!

When we launched Cogito in 2007, we had studies showing that the technology could work. But that data wasn't nearly enough. So we worked with clients to analyze hundreds of thousands of hours of customer service calls. We examined 80 million behavioral data points to extract the signals that mattered most.

We started with a health care focus, since our system could detect signs of stress and depression, but our customers wanted us to improve their call-center interactions while they were happening.

(Read on for more on Joshua Feast's Cogito, as told to Ryan Underwood)
Joshua Feast • Cogito • Three-year growth 1,529% • 2013 revenue $2.5 million PHOTO: Illustration by Joel Kimmel

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