Successful companies have more than a great concept; they also execute with style.
That's the case for many businesses on this year's Inc. 5000 list, which tallies America's fastest-growing private companies between 2011 and 2014. However, seven of them, which range from programmatic advertising to retail, really stood out--in part for putting a creative spin on age-old business models. Collectively, the companies below rang in nearly $125 billion in revenue and grew by a whopping 68,665 percent since 2011.
Read on to see, in greater detail--and in no particular order--why these companies caught our eye.
1. Boyce Technologies
Inc. 5000 rank: 172
2014 Revenue: $24.1 million
3-year growth rate: 2,442 percent
Charles Boyce deals in the grizzly details of mass transit: His eight-year-old company manufactures subway parts, including emergency response systems and communication technologies. Significantly, Boyce takes care of the manufacturing itself, and it puts teams from varied (and, often, creative) sectors to work.
"Normally, a system's integration company would take on a manufacturing role and go to each manufacturer for materials," Boyce tells Inc. New York City-based Boyce Technologies instead designs everything itself, sourcing its own materials (lenses, metals, circuit board, for example) rather than going to a third party. This allows the company to cut costs significantly. "We have good profit margins because we don't have subcontractors," he says.
That's not all that Boyce Technologies does differently--it also makes a point of hiring workers from varied, sometimes completely unrelated backgrounds. Boyce's own door porter, for instance, is now his "No. 1" (best) employee. Other key hires include software engineers, CNC programmers, field technicians, and designers. Boyce counted 60 total employees at the time of application.
Inc. 5000 rank: 21
2014 Revenue: $12 million
3-year growth rate: 10,996 percent
"We believe that old school is the new cool," says Tatcha founder and CEO Vicky Tsai. The San Francisco-based beauty and cosmetics company says it doesn't want to copy the Avons or the Macs of the world: For design inspiration, Tsai is looking further back, and much farther East.
"When I study companies that I want to emulate, they are often 200-year-old companies in Japan that have become best in class at what they do through relentless focus on perfecting their craft and continuing to surprise and delight their clients," Tsai explains. To that end, she frequently travels to Japan, where she meets with geisha to learn their styles, and to apply those to her business. The core collection is a "modern reincarnation of the geisha's ritual," which means that Tatcha makes a point of avoiding stereotypical trends.
It's worth noting that the company has an in-house R&D and teaching group, which regularly develops new formulas for products, as opposed to relying on stock recipes.
3. Social Print Studio
Inc. 5000 rank: 66
2014 revenue: $6.4 million
3-year growth rate: 4,181 percent
The San Francisco-based company (formerly, Prinstagram) lets users print photos directly from their smartphones, through Instagram as well as saved iPhotos.
Although Sylvain explains that smartphone printing is where the majority of revenues come from, the two also launched an affiliated creative agency: They go to events and print photos for high-profile clients, such as Chevrolet and ESPN. Other services include "space selfies" (they mount a drone onto a camera which, coupled with satellite imagery, can show clients where on earth they're located in real time.)
The team, which included 24 employees total at the time of application, recently built out their own brick-and-mortar studio in San Francisco's trendy SoMa neighborhood.
4. Noonday Collection
Inc. 5000 rank: 45
2014 revenue: $11.8 million
3-year growth rate: 5,512 percent
This is not your average fashion brand: Noonday Collection's business model is both socially conscious and lucrative. Unlike similar companies--such as Olivia Wilde's Conscious Commerce, for instance, or Hugh Jackman's Laughing Man Coffee & Tea--Noonday doesn't tout a celebrity to help pull in funds.
To make money, Noonday partners with over 30 artisan businesses in 13 countries across the developing world (its primary supplier is India). What makes this unique? It pays its partner businesses half of the cost of labor up front. Then, once completed, wares are sold off in trunk shows via Noonday's network of around 1,000 U.S. "ambassadors." Ambassadors are mostly small-business owners, who earn a commission of around 20 to 30 percent per sale.
Jessica Honegger launched Noonday in 2010, when she met two jewelry designers in Uganda while completing the adoption of her son, Jack. Today, the Austin-based business is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, meaning that it sets prices so that the workers in developing countries will earn a standard, livable wage.
5. Krossover Technologies
Inc. 5000 rank: 158
2014 revenue: $4.2 million
3-year growth rate: 2,494 percent
The sports industry may be booming, but when it comes to editing video footage--for clients like athletes, coaches, and fawning parents--the market is relatively untapped.
Enter Krossover Technologies, a six-year-old, New York City-based software business that wants to help basketball players improve their game. Krossover's business model works like this: Sports teams will send Krossover their game footage, which the company then evaluates across factors including possession time, game pace, and general player efficiency. It also recently developed an app, the sIQ, which can determine a given player's "sports intelligence."
Professional NBA teams, like the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Dolphins, are now also using Krossover's analyses of high school players as they recruit for the coming seasons. Krossover typically charges anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000 dollars for its services, though founder Vasu Kulkarni notes that he charges the NBA teams a higher rate (he declined to discuss how much).
Kulkarni, who grew up in India, and had always dreamed of playing professional basketball in the U.S., says that Krossover has truly been a labor of love. Although not himself bound for the big leagues, "creating a career from something you love is the next best thing," he tells Inc.
Inc. 5000 rank: 6
2014 revenue: $33 million
3-year growth rate: 23,484 percent
Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan parlayed her Stanford University PhD in information theory into a mobile advertising technology business in 2010. Drawbridge, which is based in San Mateo, California, and backed by high-profile investors such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, can decrypt consumer purchasing behavior across various platforms (smartphones, tablets, desktops, etc.).
Here's what's unique about the business model: Unlike giants such as Google and Facebook, Drawbridge can track your consumer purchases without having a software presence on your device. In other words, it deploys its own algorithm to learn how and where you buy. The company makes money by selling its technology to marketing agencies, as well as by licensing its data to e-commerce retailers (think: Ralph Lauren, or Sunglass Hut, though Sivaramakrishnan declined to specify whether those are actual customers).
"This is a company that is foundationally tech," Sivaramakrishnan tells Inc. "We are not a company that does consumer experience around fashion or shopping online; that's not our DNA."
Inc. 5000 rank: 10
2014 Revenue: $32 million
3-year growth rate: 19,556 percent
Culver City, California-based Scopely has a singular approach to advertising on mobile.
Scopely, which says it wants to be the "HBO of mobile games," does marketing, analytics, and management for touchscreen game developers (whose products are otherwise free to the consumer). The company develops its own games, too. It sells that technology to its network of more than 40 million registered gamers. Scopely has developed six games, including Yahtzee With Buddies and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival, which are both among the top 25 grossing gaming apps, according to data from App Annie.
Unlike most free-to-play companies, Scopely has the ability to "leverage the creativity of independent teams all over the world, rather than relying on full-time employees," says founder and CEO Walter Driver. Scopely sells to a network of roughly 40 million gamers, and then shares revenues with the developers themselves.
"The impetus behind Scopely began when I observed all of the macro trends in technology pointing to two billion smartphones by 2015, and the average American touching their smartphone 200 times a day. I was determined to capture the audience of the growing free to play market by creating products that would entertain and delight players everyday," Driver tells Inc.