Company Profile

COMPANY:Ultra Mobile

2015 INC. 5000 RANK: 1

HEADQUARTERS: Costa Mesa, CA

YEAR FOUNDED: 2011

2014 REVENUE: $118.2 million

3-YEAR GROWTH: 100,849%

David Glickman should be busting his buttons with pride. His telecom company Ultra Mobile is ranked No. 1 on the Inc. 5000. In 1998, Glickman’s first telecom venture, Justice Technology, took the top spot. And in 2010 another Glickman telecom business--Hometown Telecom--landed at No. 81.

A remarkable achievement, obviously. But less remarkable than if Glickman had followed up his Justice Technology triumph with companies that made digital advertising platforms or Fair Trade coffee or socks.

In March, New York University’s Stern School of Business released a study that demonstrates something most people know intuitively: Serial entrepreneurs fare better when they stick to their knitting. Startup founders benefit from the experience gained running a prior business in the same industry, even if that prior business failed. “Leveraging your industry-specific knowledge from one venture to the next can be incredibly valuable,” says J.P. Eggers, an associate professor at Stern.

Glickman clearly found that to be true. And so have at least two other entrepreneurs who made it to No. 1 and--in different years--placed companies elsewhere in the ranking.

If you’re ever on Jeopardy and are presented with the answer “He invented the three-digit security code on the backs of credit cards,” just respond “Who is Tim Litle?” and you will be correct. Litle--active in direct marketing and financial services since the 1960s--is also responsible for credit card rules that let customers buy on installment plans and the system by which mass mailers get discounts if they presort their missives. One can be an industry titan without being a household name.

Litle first made the Inc. 500 at No. 16 in 1992 with an electronic-payments processor for catalog companies called Litle & Co. He sold that business to First USA in 1995 for $80 million. But First USA did not buy the name (the business is now part of Chase Paymentech), so Litle was free to use it again when he launched another electronic-payments processor in 2001. The big difference with Litle & Co. version 2 was that more than half its customers were internet retailers. Litle leveraged everything he’d learned about the business--including his dense professional network--to grow the company 5,629 percent to $55 million. It debuted at the No. 1 spot on the 2006 Inc. 5000.

That year, Litle explained to Inc. the decision to keep riffing off the same idea as a technical challenge. (All told, he has started three electronic-payments processors and five companies.) “This is the engineer in me talking,” said Litle, “but I really wanted to build the perfect payment system.” Litle listened to his inner-businessman as well: Three years ago, he sold Litle & Co. to a public corporation called Vantiv for $361 million.

In the process of bringing the Sonicare toothbrush to market, David Giuliani--co-founder of Optiva Corp.--learned volumes about sound-wave technology, the personal care industry, manufacturing domestically, and working with medical practitioners (dentists, in the case of Sonicare). Optiva topped the Inc. 5000 in 1997 with a five-year growth rate of 31,507 percent and revenue of more than $72 million. (At the time, Inc. tracked companies' revenue growth over five years. Today, it's three.) Three years later, Giuliani sold the business to Philips Oral Healthcare.

Having succeeded with teeth, Giuliani made a logical leap to the face. In 2001, he launched Pacific Bioscience Labs, maker of the Clarisonic Skin Care Brush. “There are a lot of ladies telling me, ‘You know, that’s really good what you did for oral hygiene, but I’m getting old,’” Giuliani told Inc. at the time. Clarisonic used sound-wave technology similar to Sonicare's. Once again, Giuliani nurtured medical relationships (dermatologists that time around) and manufactured in the United States to ensure quality and flexibility.

Giuliani even used some of the same confessional talking points for both products. For Sonicare, he mentioned the repercussions of his own early dental neglect. For Clarisonic, he described the reaction to seeing his own aging face in the mirror.

Giuliani also leveraged his experience being acquired by a large consumer-products company. In 2011, just a few months after Pacific Bioscience appeared on the Inc. 5000 at No. 435, he sold it to L’Oréal.

Perhaps best of all: The Sonicare and Clarisonic brushes both made the cut for Oprah’s Favorite Things. Now that’s worth repeating.

The advice people thank me for the most.
Published on: Sep 2, 2015