What does a high-growth company look like? You might think of $100M funding rounds and "growth hacking" and a ruthless company culture. But what if I told you that not all high-growth companies take that approach?

In fact, many are finding rapid success without venture capital. You will find some of these companies on the 2018 Inc. 5000 List -- six of the 15 top-ranking software companies on the list are entirely self-funded. 

Many of these organizations are founder-led and very principled -- prioritizing people and profit. They reject the growth-at-any-cost mindset that seems to have dominated the tech landscape and grabbing salacious headlines. Instead, these companies I am talking about are focusing on creating real customer and employee value. They are breaking the traditional startup mold.

Of course, every company is unique, and therefore, has a different story and path to success. A company does not have to be self-funded to put people first. There are other ways to grow a business on your own terms.

But in general, here are the traits and actions that many of these high-growth companies take:

  • Lead with a strong vision and values

  • Make decisions based on the company's purpose, rather than money

  • Avoid waste -- because there is no room for it

  • Provide flexibility and remote work opportunities

  • Create a culture of growth and learning

  • Serve customers, employees, and communities exceptionally well

It is encouraging to see how many companies are taking a values-driven, people-centric approach to building a business:

Aha!
2018 Inc. 5000 rank No. 143 Three-year growth 2,871 percent
I am honored to say that this list includes my own company. I am the co-founder and CEO of Aha! -- the 13th fastest-growing software company on the Inc. 5000 list. Our product roadmapping software is used by more than 200,000 users at some of the world's best-known companies. And we did it all while staying true to our values and putting people first -- no VC funding, no sales team, no offices. We prioritize responsiveness, offering 24/7 customer support and less than two-hour global customer response times. Because we have been so fortunate in our success, we make an effort to give back through charitable donations, volunteer work with our entirely remote team, and discounted rates for nonprofits.

ClickFunnels
2018 Inc. 5000 rank No. 76 Three-year growth 4,232 percent
Founded in 2014, this software company is entirely self-funded. This was an intentional decision from the founders, so the team could focus on creating a great product for users -- without having to contend with investors' opinions and decrees. Today, ClickFunnels has provided more than 40,000 members an easier way to create marketing funnels. The company also delivers value to its team by offering remote work and flexible hours.

ConvertKit
2018 Inc. 5000 rank No. 72 Three-year growth 4,270 percent
This marketing software company is 100 percent independent. In fact, part of its mission states, "We won't sell, take investors, or go public. The creators we serve are our investors." Those "creators" are the customers -- the bloggers, podcasters, etc. who use the software to make a living online. The ConvertKit team says they are entirely focused on those existing customers, rather than chasing after new ones. They also say that they are able to maintain that laser focus because they keep the team small and have everyone work remotely.

Merchology
2018 Inc. 5000 rank No. 282 Three-year growth 1,730 percent
The rallying cry at this company is "people first," and part of that is its customer service. So, the corporate apparel and custom logo company has made it a point to listen to customers and give them what they need. They provide fast-turnaround times, dedicated customer service representatives, and a simplified mobile experience. The team's listening skills are working. The company says it has over 2,500 verified customer reviews with a 4.9-plus average star rating.

Popsockets
2018 Inc. 5000 rank No. 2 Three-year growth 71,424 percent
If it seems like those circular discs are on the back of phones everywhere, it is because they are. They are called Popsockets, and its namesake company sold 35 million of them across 40 countries in 2017. But for as much money as the company is taking in, it is also giving a lot back to their team and their community. Popsockets has a huge focus on social impact -- saying that the more it sells, the more it donates. According to the website, the company has donated over $2 million to a range of causes since June.

Student Loan Hero
2018 Inc. 5000 rank No. 140 Three-year growth 2,916 percent
This company was founded on the promise of helping student loan borrowers make better financial choices. The founder believes in this so deeply that the company does not charge for its personal finance services. Instead, they make money from advertising relationships and banking partners. Even its recent acquisition by LendingTree was led by its people-centric mentality. Founder Andy Josuweit said they went with LendingTree because of its emphasis and consumer empowerment and transparency.

These companies prove that success does not have to come at the expense of your product, your team, or your own integrity. You can build something great on your own terms. And when you do, I can bet you will experience the kind of success that lasts.

What other companies do you know that are building a different kind of business?

Correction: This column formerly misstated the three-year revenue growth of Popsockets. It is 71,424 percent.

Published on: Aug 27, 2018