At long last, entrepreneurs have pulled up to the red carpet. If you're the brains, the intuition, the voice behind a new and fast-growing business, you're considered a superstar of the American economy.
Here at Entrepreneur, we were on the lookout for the latest and greatest businesses long before the world in general, and the Silicon Valley in particular, labeled entrepreneurship a craze. Five years ago, we decided to quantify our longtime quest for America's hottest new entrepreneurs. We enlisted the help of Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), the world's top research-based business information provider, and began searching for America's Hot 100 entrepreneurs. It's now one of our most rewarding endeavors--a chance to sneak-preview some of tomorrow's Microsofts and Starbucks.
What did we find this year? It's a tech, tech, tech, tech world. In our final Hot 100 of the millennium, many of the companies (in fact, our top five) are tech-based. Internet companies, which made their first appearance in last year's rankings, continued to score big, while more "old-fashioned" tech companies, such as computer wholesalers and retail hardware stores, rose in the ranks.
Less techy, and arguably less sexy firms, including food distributors, a rubber manufacturer and a specialty valve engineering firm, accounted for a respectable portion of the Hot 100. Other businesses that made the cut were just plain cool: a commercial greenhouse manufacturer, a DVD producer and a company that constructs golf courses.
Diversity in our Hot 100 isn't restricted to industry--our fast-growing start-ups come from both humble beginnings and big money. Our No. 1 start-up, for example, began with $20,000 and makes more than $100 million today.
But these entrepreneurs are more than just names, numbers, sales and start-up costs. They're people who've poured their entire beings into their businesses. For a look at the businesses--and the beings behind them--we present the following ranking and profiles of a few Hot 100 finalists.
Thinking small helped these entrepreneurs get the number-one ranking on our list.
If most of us owned a company worth more than $100 million, we'd be jetting off to Paris. Chances are, we'd be looking into buying Paris. But Louis Hazim, 29, and Michael Perez, 30, the owners of number-one-ranked Technologix Inc. in Kirkland, Washington, are low-key about their success. "Well, we went to Hawaii, of course," says Hazim, when asked if he's gone anywhere exciting now that he's rich. "And we do a lot of trips to Phoenix, where one of our main distributors is located." With all due respect to our fine readers in the capital of the 48th state: Phoenix? Well, never mind. Most people are encouraged to think big, but because Perez and Hazim think small, they've become big . . . very big. And, thus, Technologix ranks No. 1 in our list of the 100 hottest new small businesses.
It was April 1997 when the computer solutions provider opened its doors to the public (that would be Perez's master bedroom door and his garage door, which led to the company's "office" and "warehouse"). But despite a shaky start-their $20,000 in start-up costs came from maxed-out credit cards-Technologix earned $264,000 during its first year in business. In 1998, they crossed the $100 million mark and now have 21 employees.
Their incredible growth is a surprise even to Hazim and Perez. With a long list of potential clients, they and their three sales reps cold-called thousands of companies throughout most of 1998. "We tried to get a lot of big companies," says Perez. "We [told them] customer service is our core value. And we tried to appear to be a larger company than we really were."
Although Hazim and Perez provide technological solutions for companies like Microsoft and government giants like the FBI and the IRS, Technologix specializes in serving companies most people probably haven't heard of. Perez, who is co-president and the CEO, says he still goes on sales calls himself, quite frequently to small, independent outfits. "A lot of people don't understand that small and midsized businesses are the future," he says. "That's where the money is right now."
Hazim and Perez met in Seattle, where they both worked in the tech industry. Continuing their friendship as they both went on to become successful salesmen, they decided to venture out on their own. They knew many companies needed help with technology issues, from software problems to the challenges of e-commerce, and they believed they could ease other entrepreneurs' tech burdens. So before quitting their jobs, they interviewed potential customers, says Perez. "We asked people what they wanted," he says. "Our company is based on what our customers want-it's not about what we should give them, but what they want, what they need."
Perhaps Hazim and Perez can still think small because they recently were small. After all, during the first several months they were in business, Hazim and Perez were earning nothing. Hazim had left a $30,000 job, and Perez, one with a $100,000 salary. Each had a wife and children to support. "It was scary, but I guess you don't learn if you don't take a chance," muses Perez. "That's the bottom line."
And a great bottom line, at that.
Making Her Day
This golf clothing company's star power puts it above par.
In 1996, when Nancy Haley, 49, retired from Sport-Haley Inc., the publicly owned golf clothing company she founded, she thought she was through with business. But Haley's husband had an acquaintance who suggested they start a new golf clothing company.
You don't say no to Clint Eastwood.
After he proposed the idea that would become Glendale, California's Prime Golf USA LLC/Tehama (No. 53), Haley says, "They had to pick me up off the floor." The businesswoman and the actor raised $2.5 million, and both she and Eastwood contributed an equal amount of seed money; to protect Eastwood's privacy, Haley declined to say how much. Haley, the CEO, runs the day-to-day affairs, including helping design the clothes. Meanwhile, Eastwood, 69, takes care of the publicity. "You should see how everybody reacts at the trade shows," says Haley.
Golfers are reacting, too. In 1998, the company's second year in business, it brought in nearly $7.5 million in sales; 1999 expectations have sales topping $11 million. "We're talking about the whole gamut," says Haley of the company's golfwear, "from shorts, shirts, jackets and pants to sweaters, sweater vests, hats and visors-everything that could be in a sportswear line."
Their line is called Tehama, which is also the name of a golf course Eastwood is building in Carmel, California. It's the name of an extinct American Indian tribe, meaning "beautiful mountains, valleys and streams filled with salmon." The golfwear is sold in country clubs and resorts, and in upscale department stores, including Macy's and Nord-strom. The look has a '40s inspiration, yet it's been updated to fit the new-millennium mind-set. "[Eastwood] didn't want it to be flashy," Haley says. "He doesn't want to be the Michael Jordan of the golf industry. So between my expertise and his name, we felt we could build something really strong and special." That it is, and the logo on the golf cap is pure Clint: Fac diem meam. That's Latin for "Make my day."
Which leads us to our last question, and you knew we had to ask: Nancy Haley, do you feel lucky?
"Big time," she says.
These entrepreneurs have found that creating kids' clothing isn't child's play.
When she was a young girl, Joanne Terranova-Bickford would model the clothes her mother designed for her. Now as a mother herself, her little tot will do the same.
Then again, maybe not. Terranova-Bickford has a 4-year-old son, Zeke. But at the rate her children's clothing company, Zeke n Zoe (No. 69), is growing, she may need his help whether he likes it or not.
The 36-year-old entrepreneur manages the creative end of the business, while Jack Hidary, the 44-year-old CEO, handles the not-so-creative stuff. And it's a dual effort that would make any adult want to be a kid again: Zeke n Zoe brought in $804,000 in its debut year of 1997, $5,742,000 by 1998, and ought to finish off the last year of the century with $12 million. The shirts and shorts and such are colorful and playful, with many of the prints (everything from flowers to frogs) having a textured feel. They're perfect for parents who want their children to look like children.
When Hidary met Terranova-Bickford, he had left a successful children's clothing enterprise, while she had left a failed one. But Hidary, who had come from a family business and wanted to start his own company, realized all Terranova-Bickford needed was some good financial backing and an economic mindset, and since he didn't know how to design clothes . . .
The two were (pun intended) a perfect fit. In fact, the New York City company has grown so much, almost all Hidary can do is hang on. "When you grow slowly, you have time to think," explains Hidary, who should be used to growth by now: He has three boys and one girl, ages 11 to 21.
Meanwhile, Terranova-Bickford is awaiting the August arrival of her second son. She'd genuinely like to have a daughter, so will she try again? "I think I'll try one more time for a Zoe, and if that doesn't work out, I'm just going to leave it to everybody's imagination as to who Zoe is," the expectant mother says. "Maybe I'll just get a Lab or something and name her Zoe."
Making the Cut
This is how it all begins: Culling from its massive database, Dun & Bradstreet provides Entrepreneur with an initial list of fast-growing companies. Entrepreneur mails each company a form, which the entrepreneurs must complete and submit along with current financial statements. We then measure the company's sales growth from the date of inception, listing the businesses in growth order.
In order for a business to be considered, it must meet the following criteria
- Founder is actively involved in daily operations and controls at least 51 percent of the business.
- Business was founded no earlier than 1996.
- Annual sales exceeded $1 million in 1998.
- Company meets the SBA's definition of a small business, based on the number of employees and sales figures. These numbers vary according to industry.
Dun & Bradstreet research by Steve Hess; Entrepreneur research by Liza Potter, Bowen Park and Meredith Russell
About Dun & Bradstreet
Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), with the world's largest business information database, tracks 49 million companies worldwide, 11 million in the United States alone. Businesses use D&B's services to find new customers and evaluate their creditworthiness, identify potential suppliers, and collect overdue receivables.
Through face-to-face and telephone interviews and public-records searches, more than 200 million financial transactions are added annually to D&B's files in the United States alone. D&B updates its information base continually-an average of 950,000 times each business day.
When businesses are entered in the D&B database, they are issued D-U-N-S numbers (similar to Social Security numbers for companies). The U.S. federal government requires companies to have this number to bid for government contracts. Also used by the United Nations and the European Union, the D&B D-U-N-S number is quickly becoming the universal standard for identifying businesses on the Web as well.
For more information about D&B, call (800) 234-3867 or visit the D&B Web site at http://www.dnb.com. To register for a D-U-N-S number, call (800) 333-0505.