In 2009, Robby Whites and Jeremy Rincon were laid off from their jobs as junior analysts when their employer was shut down for a fraud investigation. For some, this would have been a major setback, but Whites and Rincon seized the opportunity to create something new.
Reflecting on a recent business trip to Colombia, the duo recalled their visit to an office that used a simple sheet of glass mounted on poles as a writable surface. Having spent years in the corporate world, Whites and Rincon recognized a need for an updated, more advanced and attractive version of the 1990s' messy, inefficient whiteboards. With an untapped potential in this market, they believed it would be groundbreaking to give people an attractive, functional alternative to write creatively on stylish walls, knowing it could easily be washed and wiped off. Following in the footsteps of the famed inventors Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the two 20-somethings headed straight into the garage at the home of Whites's parents. Clarus Glassboards was born.
Now the leading manufacturer and innovator of glass dry-erase and architectural systems, they've doubled their business growth in the last two years and revenues are north of $40 million. Currently, the company has 120 employees and works with an impressive lineup of customers, including Google, Facebook, and Coca-Cola.
Rincon and Whites cite these three moves as their winning strategies, taking them from zero to a valuation of over $100 million in only five years.
1. Create a product that didn't exist
The trip to South America prompted a light bulb moment that represented a huge gamble to Rincon and Whites. Would people want to graduate from whiteboards to glassboards, like they did from chalkboards to whiteboards in the '90s? They saw a need, took the gamble, and now Clarus participates in a booming market segment with a fast-growing list of customers.
2. Believe in your idea enough to open your pocketbook
We all have financial obligations, and Whites and Rincon were no exception. Both families welcomed their first children into the world less than a year before the two lost their jobs; they had some tough decisions to make. As firm believers in boot-strapping and self-funding a company, that's exactly what they did. In their words, "If you don't believe in an idea enough to put it all on the line, is it really that good of an idea?" Their dedication paid off when they sold a majority share of the company at a valuation of $105 million, a mere five years after they launched.
3. Hire the right people who are "all-in"
When you're pitching a product that doesn't exist and asking people to come along on the adventure with you, a lot can go wrong. At Clarus, they often interview 20 to 30 candidates for a single position because they understand the need to have people who fit into the culture and support the company's commitment to excellence. Whites and Rincon feel that that their own level of commitment and a dedicated work ethic is still represented in their culture today. In the early days, the founders would sell glassboards on the phone during the day, and at 5 o'clock they'd walk out into the garage and make the product. Thankfully, today it's a little different, with over 200 employees and a move to their fifth facility (more than 120,000 square feet). But the investment in the people from day one has paid untold dividends.
Create, believe, and build a lasting culture of commitment and excellence. That about sums it up!