Unlike so many of his peers, you will not find Ziver Birg at a local tech meet-up, or featured on TechCrunch, or wooing an audience at SXSW. He is probably too busy meeting with the mayor of Marion, Indiana (population: 30,000), where he runs the second largest kiosk manufacturing company in the world.
His company, Zivelo, was behind the digital menus for the White House cafeteria and e-concierge kiosks at Hilton. The company has been doubling annual revenue for the past three years and boasts Fortune 500 clients such as Mercedes-Benz, Raytheon, and Chase.
Zivelo, which did $4 million in sales last year, is Birg’s second kiosk company. The first, started in 2001 when he was just 18 and a student at Arizona State University, was a website called AffordableKiosks.com. It was an online marketplace where other kiosk manufacturers could sell their products. “The kiosk industry in 2001 was a lot like the computer industry in the 80s,” says Birg. The industry was fragmented and few companies even had a Web presence, so Birg’s site “was like a convenience store” for kiosks. Eventually, he began making his own branded kiosks through a manufacturer in Taiwan. “We had sold everyone else’s products, so we understood all the pros and cons,” he says.
But while Birg knew plenty about kiosks, he didn’t know nearly enough about how to run a company. In seven months, he burned through a $4 million investment intended to last for three years, and he had built a top-heavy organization filled with overpriced talent. He also found that many prospective Fortune 500 companies insisted on factory tours, which was impossible with a Taiwan-based manufacturing partner. “I shut it down in 2007, and I learned a lot,” he says.
Eighteen months later, he was back in business and was “determined to do it right.” For Birg, the first step was finding a manufacturing partner in the U.S. So he built a prototype of a kiosk, loaded it into a borrowed Mercedes van “so that we appeared very strong” and drove 8,000 miles to visit 11 different factories that he had found by doing a Dun & Bradstreet search for metal fabricators. It all came together in Marion, where he found the factory that now manufactures his kiosks. Birg inked a deal with the company, moved to Marion, and racked up $900,000 in revenue his first year in business. “All of our customers find us on the Internet,” he says.
The manufacturer, one of the largest metal fabricators in the U.S., now has a small ownership stake in Zivelo. “In this economy, a lot of factories were shutting down, and we were a big part of making sure our metal fabricator was successful during the downturn,” says Birg. He’s now talking to Marion’s mayor about building a new 100,000 square foot assembly facility, and he’s predicting $9 million in sales for 2012.