Cities and states compete for hot startups, many of which can locate anywhere. But some companies' brands, cultures, and business models are so deeply entwined to the places that birthed them that they seem to practically embody them. These companies solve local problems or they're just infused with local color. Their specificity doesn't just feel authentic; it is authentic.
Several companies on this inaugural Inc. 5000 Series: Texas list offer products that are uniquely joined to the Lone Star State--and simply put, ooze its outdoorsy, land-loving, and independent grandeur.
Here are three:
Inc. 5000 Series: Texas 2020 rank No. 72 | Two-year growth 207% | 2018 revenue $4.4M
Texans' love for tea runs deep. "It's pretty rare to come to Texas and find a restaurant that doesn't serve sweet tea," says Justin Howe, the CEO of HTeaO, an Amarillo-based iced tea franchise with 15 locations around Texas. "We grow up drinking it."
Many of the 11-year-old company's existing locations are situated near barbecue joints, a natural pairing given tea's popularity at cookouts and tailgate parties. HTeaO, which offers 24 flavors fresh each day, is also opening kiosks in some double-A ballparks. The company has 60 franchisees signed on for 100 stores under development.
What's HTeaO's secret sauce? It eschews powders and syrups, instead brewing all flavors like mint and mango from broad leaf tea in store kitchens with on-site water plants. Employees also use that water to fill five-gallon jugs, which they haul to customers' cars and pickups along with bags of ice and coolers packed with flavored teas. In addition to healthy snacks, HTeaO sells Yeti products, which appeal to its hunting-fishing-outdoors-loving customers.
"You're having a barbecue or a birthday party, and we fill up your coolers with fresh-brewed tea, and it's the hit of the party," says Howe, who's the son and stepson of HTeaoO's founders, Kim and Gary Hutchens.
Its product diversity hints at the company's own expansion plans. HTeaO has franchisees signed up in seven states. But its logo incorporates an outline of the state of Texas, and its apparel line is heavy on "born in Texas" messaging. "We are trying to share the Texas culture," says Howe. "The outdoors. The sun. The heat."
2. Energy Ogre
Inc. 5000 Series: Texas 2020 rank No. 46 | Two-year growth 301% | 2018 revenue $6.3M
It's not surprising that Texas views energy differently. It is the only state in the lower 48 with its own power grid. On the retail side, deregulation in 2002 released a flood of entrants into the market and removed the option of buying from an incumbent utility.
In the Houston area alone, 600 different plans might be available at any given time. "They have flat rates. Or if you consume your first 1,000 kilowatts, it's one rate, and then the next 1,000 is a different rate," says Jesson Bradshaw, who launched Energy Ogre in 2013 to help consumers cope with excessive choice, which, he adds, "can be overwhelming."
For $10 a month, the Houston-based company aims to help consumers get the best deals from the state's electricity market. The company will run a customer's consumption profile against all the different rates and plans. "We can figure out how much the effective rate of those plans will be for every theoretical kilowatt hour of consumption that any potential customer could use," adds Bradshaw.
As a Texas native and energy industry veteran, Bradshaw understands the unique opportunity his home state presents. What's more, he says there's still room to roam. "The Texas electricity market is far and away the most competitive market in the United States," he says. "We could take this model to other parts of the country. But I don't think it would be as valuable as it is to folks here."
3. Home Tax Solutions
Inc. 5000 Series: Texas 2020 rank No. 96 | Two-year growth 150% | 2018 revenue $4.2M
While Texas can boast zero income taxes, it's property taxes are among the highest in the nation. And for those who pay late, the penalties can ratchet up very quickly, says Trey Rome, founder and CEO of Home Tax Solutions, based in Dallas. Property taxes in Texas are due February 1. By July 1, penalties and interest may have accrued more than 40 percent above the original bill.
That's where Rome's company comes in. It pays customers' taxes for them and sets them up on a repayment plan. The company leverages a law, dating back to the Depression, that allows a third party, with a homeowner's consent, to pay his property taxes in exchange taking the county's tax lien as collateral. Home Tax Solutions pays the county directly and holds the lien until it is repaid. For decades, Texas was the only state with this provision, although Nevada now has it and others are interested.
Home Tax Solutions has originated more than $67 million in loans since 2012, helping roughly 5,200 homeowners. The company says it has never foreclosed. "In the last year, we saved north of 50 families from being kicked out and being homeless," says Rome. "They were within a week of being foreclosed on by the county."
While the concept of home is important to everyone, Texans feel a singularly powerful connection to the land. "A lot of times you inherit the land from your family and may not have the cash flow to sustain the property taxes," says Rome. "It's important to keep that heritage alive and well."