Back in 1983, when the world's internet authorities issued four billion IPv4 addresses--the 32-bit number assigned to every laptop, smartphone, and website--there were more than enough to go around. Few predicted a future where smartphones, connected Keurigs, and Minecraft servers would gobble up the reserves. Lo and behold, the world finally exhausted its supply of the original internet addresses in 2019. 

No. 6
2021 rank
Jake Brander
Brander Group
Three-year revenue growth

Meanwhile, internet service providers (ISPs) were growing hungrier for IP addresses. The uptick in demand was prompted, in part, by the Obama administration's move to require the federal government to start subsidizing the expansion of broadband across rural parts of the country. 

Jake Brander was ready. The founder of the Brander Group, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based brokerage for IP addresses, had already worked in IT sales right as IPv4 addresses began to tap out. So he was well placed to connect ISPs with an inventory of unused IP addresses they could use to build out new networks in underserved areas. Ever since, the business of connecting buyers with those looking to unload blocks of unused IP addresses, which might fetch anywhere from several thousand to millions of dollars, has been swift. 

Last year, the company generated more than $30 million in revenue, up 27,096 percent from 2017. And, after starting 2020 with just seven employees, Brander says he now hopes to hire more than a dozen people by the end of 2021, including solutions architects, account executives, and other roles to handle the continued surge of new clients.

"We feel good because everybody has benefited from this, and the global internet, which we all rely on daily, is able to continue to grow at a pace that is considered normal. If there were no IPs available for sale, the internet would have to stop rolling temporarily. And that's the truth," says Brander.

Of course, when Brander first started the business in 2016, nothing was assured. He was just 31 years old at the time and plowed $20,000 of his personal savings into launching the company. And, during the early years of the company, he often put friends, family, relationships, and everything else on the back burner.

Even now balance is tough, he says. "I'm so busy it's tough for me to have normal relationships because people don't understand the amount of dedication it takes," says Brander.

Besides the personal cost, each transaction can be time-consuming. The Brander Group created a system that identifies all the world's IPv4 addresses. From there, Brander's staff assesses if an IP address is still in use or dormant. They'll then use LinkedIn to home in on the owner, and if the company or organization is still around.

"Basically, it takes hours of research before finally reaching out via phone or email to then educate them on an idea that sounds like it could be a scam. It's often an uphill battle," says Brander. He adds that the company also vets sellers to make sure they actually own the IP addresses, and aids buyers in the transfer process. 

Working with schools and universities has been one of the most fulfilling parts of the job for Brander. To date, the company has worked with more than 60 educational institutions to help sell their IPv4 addresses. There are some universities that have had well over $1 million worth of unused IPv4 blocks that the company helped sell to interested buyers. Schools often then use the earnings to fund scholarships and new programs.

The pandemic also delivered a surge. Brander says his company worked with many struggling businesses interested in recouping some of their losses through the sale of IP addresses. 

"We've helped a lot of companies do a lot of good by bringing in additional funds," says Brander. What's next for the company involves doubling down on this audience, he says, adding that he plans to start providing clients with consulting services in networks, IT, data centers, and security.

And that's liable to serve as a good hedge, too. As the rollout of 5G starts to unfold en masse, more companies will likely begin phasing in a new IP protocol, phasing the older ones out over time. Meanwhile, Brander says he is working with global telcos and ISPs that are rolling out 5G to help the sale and transfer of IPv4 addresses.