Starting a company based on a market niche is a particular risk. You stake your business on the belief that there are people out there who share the passion, need, or problem that inspired your product--and who are also willing to pay for it. These five founders took that risk, creating companies that exploit a slice of an existing market that was ripe for innovation and a fresh approach. Turns out they were right. We welcome these first-time members of the Inc. 5000, who prove that sometimes a niche can turn out to be a whole lot bigger than you ever dreamed.
A road map through a murky corner of finance
Srii Srinivasan, Chargeback Gurus
When Srii Srinivasan's call center company received a chargeback--the reversal by a bank or credit card company of a payment, due to a customer dispute--"there was nobody to contact, really," she says. After months of wading through paperwork and navigating what she calls the "deep, dark, mysterious world of chargebacks," she succeeded in recovering every penny her customer had disputed. In 2013, she and her co-founder husband, Suresh Dakshina, realized they could help online merchants fight chargebacks with their newfound expertise. "This is not a sexy part of business," she says of the Allen, Texas-based company. Business owners are "thinking about how to make a profit, how to make a product good, marketing, sales. They don't want to think about this."
2017 Inc. 5000 Rank No. 3,946
Three-year growth 72.5%
2016 Revenue $3.9 million
Home security for the DIY set
Joshua Unseth, Alarm Grid
Joshua Unseth wondered why home security systems were so complex when the web was making it possible for them to be "decomplicated," he says. So in 2012, he teamed up with two buddies, Sterling Donnelly and Eric Hochberger, to create Alarm Grid, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based provider of security systems that customers install themselves. Unseth says its alarms use the same equipment that big competitors like ADT do, but Alarm Grid created a library of how-to YouTube videos to help customers with DIY installation, and it offers contract-free plans. "People hate their security companies," says Unseth. "They're known for not treating customers well. We try to treat our customers the way the Ritz-Carlton treats theirs."
2017 Inc. 5000 Rank No. 1,264
Three-year growth 323.7%
2016 Revenue $2 million
Healthy snacks from an unexpected source
Poorvi Patodia, Biena
When Poorvi Patodia, a former brand manager for Splenda, was pregnant with her first child, she began experimenting with healthy snacks to satisfy her cravings. Enter the lowly chickpea. Well, not so lowly, it turns out. One cup of chickpeas boasts more protein and fiber than a large potato, and Patodia discovered that dusting them with familiar flavors turns them into a great snack food. She launched Biena, based in Boston, in 2012. "We focused on flavor profiles that the American consumer already likes to eat: ranch, honey roasted," she says. "You eat it like a nut and it tastes like a chip."
2017 Inc. 5000 rank No. 557
Three-year growth 807.3%
2016 Revenue $2.1 million
Knit one, purl two, recycle three
Nicole Snow, Darn Good Yarn
After she left the U.S. Air Force, Nicole Snow started a fashion, accessories, and housewares importing business and took up knitting to unwind. Through her suppliers, she learned that women in villages in India and Nepal tore apart silk sari remnants and turned them into yarn. In 2008, she transformed her company into an online seller of that yarn and fabric and clothing made from it. "I could use Darn Good Yarn as a conduit not only to recycle but also to help these people have sustainable jobs," Snow says. Darn Good Yarn, based in Schenectady, New York, has since kept more than one million pounds of textile waste from landfills and created jobs for 600 people in India and Nepal, who get paid six to eight times the local average wage.
2017 Inc. 5000 rank No. 599
Three-year growth 753.3%
2016 Revenue $3.7 million
Taking work out of workplace decor
Randy Nicolau, Poppin
Randy Nicolau hated buying furniture for his previous companies. "The process was broken and antiquated," he says. "The only thing worse was buying a car." So in 2012 he founded Poppin, which has designed office spaces and branded office products for the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, and more. Nearly all the furniture, office supplies, and accessories Poppin sells can be shipped the same day--no more waiting 12 weeks for a new desk. And to appeal to a younger work force, the company, based in New York City, amped up the design: Instead of drab gray, Poppin's wares come in Zeitgeisty colors like Millennial pink. The company is also pioneering staples for the open office, such as a "privacy chair" with upholstered walls.
2017 Inc. 5000 rank No. 1,008
Three-year growth 429.7%
2016 Revenue $40 million