Editor's note: Inc. magazine will announce its pick for Company of the Year on Monday, December 10. Here, we spotlight a contender for the title in 2018.
"The screen has become the most important place in the world," says Clark Valberg, CEO and founder of InVision. Whatever your company does, whether it's a physical product or virtual service, chances are your customer experiences it significantly, and maybe entirely, on the screen of a mobile phone or computer. When today's multibillion-dollar companies like Uber and Airbnb are born, more often than not it's because they've won the war for digital real estate. Sales, marketing, customer support: "Most of your business processes are driven through that little pane of glass," Valberg says.
And that means everyone in your company needs to be able to discuss what's on that screen. That's where InVision comes in. Its software lets product designers make rapid digital prototypes and seamlessly share them with employees in other departments whose feedback is needed, from sales to legal to the C-suite. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, among many other high-ranking executives, is a daily user.)
Founded seven years ago in Brooklyn, InVision is used by 4.5 million people at thousands of companies, including 80 of the Fortune 100. Notable customers include Lyft, Netflix, Gap, and Starbucks. Its business model is the SaaS-standard freemium, with a subscription for up to five design "seats" costing $100 per month, depending on usage and team size. "We're focused on helping everyone in the organization become design-driven," Valberg says.
Valberg identified the need for something like InVision while running a creative agency in New York. He became frustrated by the inability to get designers and clients around the same virtual table, resulting in endless back-and-forth and the least technologically fluent participants becoming choke points. That had always been true, Valberg says, but the arrival of Slack and other distributed-communications tools suggested the solution.
Assembling the necessary talent to make his idea a reality was a challenge. Google had just undertaken a massive expansion of its Manhattan office and Valberg couldn't afford to compete with it for New York City's limited supply of coders. So instead he targeted the best engineers in places like Saskatchewan, Wichita, and Phoenix, and offered them twice what they were earning--though still far less than they could have earned in Silicon Valley or New York--as well as control over their schedules and locations.
It worked out so well, Valberg decided to eschew physical offices entirely. InVision's VP of product strategy works out of a roving Airstream trailer, with a green screen he uses during videoconferences to further confuse people about where he is. The company's head of video spent a year traveling around America without taking time off work (and did the best work of his career, Valberg says, speaking from his home office in Brooklyn).
Operating virtually hasn't exactly slowed the company down. InVision now has 800 employees (up from fewer than 500 a year ago) and a $1 billion valuation that should increase with its imminent next funding round. By those measures, InVision is already bigger than Slack was when it was named Inc.'s Company of the Year for 2015. The company has taken a meaningful bite out of Adobe's multibillion-dollar business and even forced the design-software giant to change its own products to stay competitive.
Both within InVision and at the companies that use it, Valberg is dispelling what he sees as a myth: that physical proximity is a prerequisite for creative teams. The idea that great ideas happen when people from different disciplines bump into each other at the water cooler is a thing of the past, he says.
"Innovation is not magic. It's the conclusion of the right setting," he says. "When you become super deliberate, it'll happen a lot more often." With the right tools, anyway.