Every year while most Americans (including Jeb Bush) are assembling their fantasy football lineups, we at Inc. are conducting our own draft. That is, we're deciding which of the thriving outfits we follow will be Company of the Year. For 2015, in case you somehow got to this page without reading the cover, we're going with Slack, the business software phenom. The choice says as much about us as about Slack.
First, what our choice for Company of the Year is not: We're not trying to predict the company that will give investors the best return or be a household name in 100 years. Instead, we're looking for a founder who embodies what we have loved about entrepreneurs since our founding 36 years ago, whose startup epitomizes this moment in business history. To us, it's not just Company of the Year; it's Company of This Year.
Seen through this lens, Slack is a clear choice. As writer Jeff Bercovici describes him in "Gimme Some Slack," CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield is a serial founder, a guy with entrepreneurship in his bones. Much of what we love about Slack is timeless: The problem the company set out to solve is one that Butterfield and his founding team faced themselves, and their product is less of a quantum leap forward than a stunningly effective set of improvements on what came before. If you watch entrepreneurs long enough, you observe that innovation is typically a ground game, not a hail mary pass.
But there are things about Slack that make it very much a creature of 2015. Valued at $2.8 billion, it's officially a unicorn--and therefore one of the avatars of this era, much as the nifty 50 or dot-coms were of theirs. Also, Slack may be the most successful example of the consumerization of business tools, a trend that has implications extending to the social divide between digital haves and have-nots. Finally, it doesn't hurt that we have become avid users of Slack here at Inc. Whatever else was true of 2015, there was a lot of work to get done; any company that helped us do it more efficiently is a company for our times.
Let me also call out another of our year-end must-reads, our annual State of Small Business report, by Leigh Buchanan. What makes this survey so interesting, in my opinion, is the extraordinary sample it draws on: the leaders of America's fastest-growing companies. In other words, you.
If Slack is about making businesses more efficient, our survey leaves no doubt that you think government is about the opposite. While that idea may sound partisan, your reasoning behind it is not, nor, moving into a cynical election year, is your unshakable entrepreneurial optimism. Read our analysis and I think you'll agree: Entrepreneurs think different.