2014 INC. 5000 RANK: 324
HEADQUARTERS: Louisville, KY
YEAR FOUNDED: 2010
2013 REVENUE: $2.2 Million
3-YEAR GROWTH: 1,438%
ModulR's two-man iPad accessory shop launched quickly--and then pivoted just as fast when the retail business proved too competitive. Now the $2.5 million company has found its own niche making products for mobile workforces. Here's how that focus helped modulR get to #324 on the 2014 Inc. 5000.
When the iPad came out in 2010, I wanted to build a great consumer product for the device. My last company, a green energy business, had just hit a dead end, along with the rest of the green energy market. But I saw opportunity in the explosion of tablet computing. I convinced my friend Mike Casto to help me start a company making iPad cases for consumers and selling them online. But eight months later, things were looking rough. We struggled with our manufacturing, and every company seemed to be releasing an iPad case.
Everything changed in August 2010 when I got a call from someone at the University of Chicago Medical Center who was looking for specially-designed iPad cases. The hospital wanted cases with shoulder straps so doctors could comfortably carry their devices around the hospital all day. We designed a prototype for them in just one day, and several weeks later, the hospital ordered 100 of them.
That order, albeit small, was a turning point for us. We realized we didn't want to slug it out at retail anymore. It was a market that was super crowded and super noisy. After working with companies in the advertising world, we knew that margins at retail were too thin and the headaches too big. So we decided to go where no one else seemed to be headed: selling cases specifically for mobile workers.
After that initial hospital order, we got a call from Apple, marking the start of a relationship that opened more doors. Eventually that led to a call from AT&T, whose retail staff needed iPad cases that would not only hold up but be easy and comfortable to handle for eight-plus hours a day. Most of our large opportunities have come from clients calling or doing a test order. By following up directly and determining their true needs, we figured out a design that worked. Mike would whip out designs on the computer and have a render and sometimes prototyped solution within a day. To bring in core needs, I taught myself coding to handle our website and Mike and I both learned 3D design using online tutorials. I've always felt it was important to stay lean too. The more layers, the less productive you will be. We also rely heavily on partners like Airtech Design in Minneapolis, which helped us with our overseas manufacturing. Four years later, modulR is still a two-man shop that has made custom cases for 5,000 business clients. Annual sales hit $2.5 million last year. I say we followed the same strategy as famed baseball slugger Willie Keeler who said to "hit 'em where they ain't."
As told to Inc. contributing writer Jennifer Alsever.