If you want to be successful, study someone who is and find out how they did it. You may not be able to create the next Snapchat but you can build the next big thing. And that’s the point.
Below you will find 25 people, all under 40, to watch and draw inspiration from. They come from all sectors and sizes, but the one common thread among them is they saw what was being done and did it differently. As an entrepreneur, you have to be different. You have to defy convention. You have to look at the world, at some problem, and say, “There has to be a better way.”
The distance between chasing your idea and being on this list is not long. Some people on this list started their company less than a year ago. All of them are young enough and impatient enough not to wait for success. So what are you waiting for? Go out, create and hopefully we’ll see you on this list next year.
In alphabetical order.
1. Aydin Acar, CEO, Influenster
Acar has bridged the gap between the product sampling and market research industries by offering socially savvy members full product integration into their lives and also arms brands with real-time data and valuable market insights.
"My cofounder, Elizabeth Scherle, was working with Fortune 500 clients on product sampling campaigns while I was working at a market research firm when we both realized there was a distinct need for brands to collect targeted consumer feedback more efficiently,” Acar said. “There was this inherent gap in the industry. Hence, Influenster was born with the ideology of activating consumers in their social media networks while feeding marketers with the real-time data and feedback. "
Influenster has a trendsetter community of more than two million influential and socially savvy members.
2. Gerard Adams, Co-Founder, Elite Daily
A self-made millionaire at 24, Gerard Adams sold the company he co-founded - Elite Daily -- for $50 million last year. Now, Adams is becoming a mentor for millennials and following in the footsteps of inspirational hustlepreneurs like Tony Robbins and Gary Vaynerchuk. Adams will be a household name soon.
He has also created a non-profit incubator in Newark, called Fownders, aimed to inspire and create future entrepreneurs and leaders in the area.
3. Johnny Brann Jr., Owner, Kitchen 67
Earlier this year, Brann’s restaurant was deemed the “Best Sandwich To Definitely Try Before You Die” by The Huffington Post. But what this third-generation restauranteur and philanthropist is really known for is his introduction of high-tech into the restaurant industry.
Restaurants all over the world, as well as companies like Apple and Verizon, consult with Brann who was the first to introduce touch-screen ordering systems at every booth years ago and has now been the first to introduce wireless inductive charging at every table. Set your phone, laptop or tablet on the table and it starts charging, no matter the device.
“At some point the rest of the industry catches up,” Brann said. “But we welcome collaboration. When you come to a restaurant, you come for an experience. It’s the little things, like having a fully-charged phone, that can leave a big impression.”
4. Ian Crosby, CEO, Bench
Accounting isn’t sexy. As a result, accounting is this massive annoyance in every entrepreneur’s life. This was something Ian Crosby, knew he could automate, making bookkeeping and its systems accessible for the general public.
Bench is a tech company, which automates accounting tasks. Essentially an online accounting service, Bench pairs small business owners with a dedicated bookkeeping team and simple and elegant software.
“The opportunity was there for the taking. So we took it,” Crosby said. “We built a company that transforms the experience of accounting from something that entrepreneurs dread into something they find genuinely useful; something that is beautiful.”
Bench has raised $33 million to date - with it’s most recent round being led by Bain Capital. It services thousands of business owners across the country, and currently employs 250 people out of its North American headquarters.
5. Mike Festa, Head of Research and Development, Wayfair
Mike Festa, the head of Wayfair's Research and Development Lab, Wayfair Next, has been spearheading Wayfair's efforts to build augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies in an effort to dramatically enhance the online shopping experience for customers.
Festa initially proposed the idea of developing AR and VR applications for Wayfair more than three years ago, before he even started working at Wayfair. He pitched his idea to the company founders at a company hackathon and was finally encouraged to build his very own R&D team last winter. The team now has more than 10 people and has already launched an AR application, WayfairView, which helps people fully visualize a product in their home or office.
6. Adam Ghetti, CEO, Ionic Security
Ghetti is continuing to shake up the security industry at 29 years old. Ionic Security currently works with three branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, large corporations and financial services firms in the Fortune 100 to protect and secure their data.
Backed by Google Ventures, Goldman Sachs and Kleiner Perkins, Ionic recently collaborated with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to make its enterprise data management and protection offering available via the AWS marketplace. Most recently, Amazon, Goldman Sachs and others announced an investment of $45 million in the company.
In 2010, Ghetti built a personal tool he called Social Fortress, a browser add-on that would act as a layer over Facebook and allow him full control over his personal data beyond the social network’s own privacy settings, which eventually became the basis for Ionic Security.
“Quite frankly, those aren’t really privacy controls. They’re 'make you feel good controls' because you already gave them the data," Ghetti said. "They can do whatever they want with it. We’re going to build the next big independent security company. There hasn’t been one since Symantec and McAfee.”
7. Christine Hunsicker, CEO, Gwynnie Bee
Hunsicker solved a plus-sized problem. In 2011, Hunsicker set out to tackle the limited access the plus size population have to trendy fashion by launching Gwynnie Bee - an online clothing rental subscription service exclusively for women between the sizes of 10 and 32.
Hunsicker has disrupted the $108 billion apparel industry with this new model that transforms the retail clothing experience from transactional shopping to relationship-based rental membership. After five years, $100 million in funding and more than three million boxes delivered to members, Gwynnie Bee has grown from four people in an East Village apartment to more than 350 employees operating out of four offices across the U.S. and India.
"If you look at it simply from a financial perspective or from a business perspective, 75 percent of the adult female population is size 10 or above. Sixty-seven percent is size 14 or above, and traditional retail has ignored and systematically underserved these women," Hunsicker said. "Apparel is a basic necessity, and it really hasn't been disrupted by technology in any meaningful way. We want it to be a place where managing a rotating wardrobe is actually the way the majority of people interact with clothing.”
8. Sania Jamil, CEO, Bumble Brain Box
Like Hunsicker, Jamil has revolutionized an industry with a subscription service. Created less than a year ago, Bumble Brain Box provides monthly activities for children specifically designed to improve their brain development.
“Ages zero to five are the most important for a child’s development,” Jamil said. “But it’s hard for parents to carve out time, or even know where to start. So we took the time to take the thought out of it and give parents something to do with their children that takes mere minutes and makes a huge impact.”
Beyond brain development, parents are always looking for something to keep their kids occupied and happy. Jamil tapped into a large market no one thought existed before and has sold out of boxes every month she has been in business.
9. Josh Kent, CEO, SunFrog
A self-taught programmer, Kent built the nation’s largest t-shirt company in less than three years by completely changing the business model. He now employs nearly 400 people.
The Etsy of clothing has empowered thousands to create thriving small businesses globally. According to Alexa, SunFrog is now one of the 500 most trafficked sites in the world. The site is more popular than Mashable, Reuters and Nordstrom.
“Commerce is changing. If you have a large following on social media and the right idea, you can drive a lot of commerce,” Kent said. “We only succeed if our users succeed. So we create the tools - and the shirts -- to make that happen.”
10. Kyle Kamrooz, COO, Cloudvirga
Kyle Kamrooz is disrupting the mortgage industry by automating workflow, which has become wildly inefficient due to increased regulation stemming from the subprime housing crisis in 2007-8. His company, Cloudvirga, just closed a $7.5 million Series A funding round, and its Intelligent Mortgage Platform (iMP) has already processed nearly $5 billion in loans since launching in August 2015.
“I’ve been working in the mortgage industry since I was 19 years old, so I’m acutely aware of the workflow crisis plaguing the industry. It typically takes months to complete a home loan transaction, and the process is fraught with error, massive redundancies, manual processes and lack of transparency and communication, resulting in high costs for lenders and consumers,” Kamrooz said.
That’s what has made Cloudvirga unique. They have both a solid foundation in lending and tech experience.
“Software developers that might be able to build brilliant platforms in other industries can’t come in and disrupt the mortgage industry because they don’t understand all of the moving parts involved in closing a home loan,” Kamrooz said.
11. Annalea Krebs, Founder, Social Nature
At 24, Annalea Krebs started ethicalDeal - a green Groupon-like site. In her first year of running the company, she pulled in more than $1 million in sales. Krebs sold ethicalDeal in 2015.
In 2014, Krebs started Social Nature - an all natural, green influencer marketing company. Social Nature has an online community of more than 100,000 users and investment from Shopify Founder Scott Lake.
Users go to the site to check out which new products will be available to try out. Social Nature pairs the products with certain users - this is often demographic or geographically based -- and the selected users get to try out the products for free and then write a review.
“I saw a huge opportunity to utilize word of mouth marketing in a time when ad blockers are the norm, and the majority of consumers just don't watch or trust traditional advertising. The mission is to bring better, natural products to the masses," she said.
12. Solomon Liou, CEO, KidPass
Solomon Liou, a tech industry veteran and first time dad, decided to start his own company last year to tackle an entirely new challenge that he and 22 million other millennial parents face - how to raise a well-rounded child with a busy schedule and tight budget.
"I think as a millennial, parenting is one of the biggest challenges for our generation, yet very few companies are doing much to address it. Almost everything we do today - whether it's booking a table, a taxi, or a doctor -- is one click away. However, trying to find kids' activities today still requires word of mouth and the yellow pages - almost nothing is digitally accessible,” Liou said.
Liou wanted to modernize parenting, and make it easier through KidPass, which helps parents find events, camps, classes, museums and more.
“We’ve brought hundreds of local businesses online through our platform and have seen our customer base grow 10 times in just six months - all organically. Doing fun stuff with your kids shouldn't be a chore, and I think with KidPass we've solved that."
KidPass just closed $1 million in seed funding from notable investors, including ClassPass backers. Solomon has his eyes set on continued growth and market expansion.
13. Alison Magyar, President, Hubb
After gaining 15 years of experience in event management, Allison Magyar created the events platform company Hubb to help conference and meeting planners manage and market content for their events. Hubb was built to address the problems she experienced handling an overwhelming amount of email, Excel spreadsheets and schedules - challenges common across the industry.
Since getting its start in 2012, Hubb has more than 21 major customers, including Microsoft, Atlassian, Tableau and Intel. Hubb is built for the API economy, and the company has partnered with more than 17 best in breed integrated partners, including Freeman AV, Meetings Online and Gather Digital. Under Allison’s leadership, Hubb is poised to garner an increasing amount of the $4 billion global events software market.
“After one particularly painful all-nighter spent making manual changes to printed event programs at the last minute, I decided that there had to be a better way to streamline and manage my event content,” Magyar said. “When I couldn’t find a system that worked, I built one myself.”
14. James Matthews, CEO, Steadyfare
In 2016, it seems every company wants a piece of the rideshare market. With Uber valued more than $60 billion, even two percent of the market could turn a startup in to a $1 billion enterprise. And that’s exactly what Matthews is looking to do.
“Ridesharing is new, but there were already obvious pain points with Uber. So I created an alternative that never surges and puts more money in the drivers’ pockets,” said Matthews. “This is a service industry. Uber and Lyft don’t own the cars. The drivers aren’t employees. So a current driver can turn on Steadyfare during a surge, and we are immediately in business.”
The sharing economy makes it easier to compete with established competition if you have the right idea. Because you don’t have to build infrastructure, you just have to convince people there is an alternative. Steadyfare raised nearly $1 million in its first month and continues to grow and generate buzz while in beta.
15. Ross McCray, CEO, VideoAmp
Ross McCray is home-schooled, self-taught coder, who is daring to forever change how consumers are watching and consuming media across different devices.
McCray attended UCLA to study mathematics and astrophysics. He eventually dropped out and began a mobile app development agency in 2011. He was one of the first YouTube seeding experts at Channel Factory, a business he helped bootstrap out of an apartment in downtown LA.
Today, Ross is at the helm of VideoAmp, a technology-driven company that gives advertisers the ability to plan, buy and measure digital video ads across devices and screens - TV, desktop, mobile and tablet.
16. Joseph Nejman, Founder, ShareRails
Joseph Nejman is a serial tech entrepreneur. His successful businesses include Brandcasting Unlimited, responsible for the technology and digital media strategy behind Britney Spears' comeback tour.
His current venture, ShareRails, built a suite of omni-channel ecommerce solutions bridging the gap between physical and digital retailers to offer an online shopping experience with real-time social proof.
Nejman previously worked at Google in a variety of business development roles with a focus on local markets, mobile and entertainment.
17. Polina Raygorodskaya, CEO, Wanderu
Polina Raygorodskaya’s visionary leadership pioneered metasearch aggregation in the field, creating the leading bus and train travel search platform in North America.
Prior to the launch of Wanderu, key figures in the American bus industry claimed that a ticket aggregation site would be impossible in the bus industry because there was no universal technology available to unite all different carriers. Polina, however, successfully led her team of developers to build said technology, and as a result, she ended up bringing the intercity bus business into the digital world.
"Our focus from day one has always been to grow the bus and train industry by making it easier for people to find their perfect trip from door-to-door,” Raygorodskaya said. "The technology we built is unique to the industry in that it doesn’t just aggregate already available resources but allows people to type in any address, city or point of interest and find the closest station to them; get transit directions to and from the station; and combine multiple providers to get them exactly where they want to go.”
18. Robert Reffkin, CEO, Compass
Real estate is one of the last industries to adopt technology as a vital part of business. Three years ago, Robert Reffkin and Ori Allon launched Compass, a real estate model combining the country's best agents and never-before-seen tech resources to make the process of buying and selling a home more seamless and transparent.
Under his leadership, Compass launched the first agent-facing mobile app by a residential brokerage, which allowed agents to perform property valuations; produce marketing materials; and contact clients all in one place. What once took hours now only takes minutes - and agents are able to concentrate more on their clients.
Robert's formula is working. Since launching just three years ago, Compass now has 22 offices in luxury markets across the country with more than 1,000 agents and employees transacting some of the most high-end properties in the world. Their recent $110 million East Hampton sale is the fifth largest in the U.S.
Prior to Compass, Robert worked at Goldman Sachs as Chief of Staff to the President and COO, following five years working in the firm's private equity arm. In 2005, he was appointed as a White House Fellow to serve as special assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury. Outside of work, he recently completed 50 marathons, one in each state, to raise $1 million for nonprofits.
19. Cecile Schmollgruber, CEO, Stereolabs
Nearly all the biggest tech innovations rely on machines looking at the world - self-driving cars, robots and AR -- just to name a few. Problem is, these sensors either use infrared light, which only works at short range and never outdoors, or LiDAR, which is extremely expensive, bulky and complicated.
Stereolabs, co-founded by CEO Cecile Schmollgruber, takes a different approach - emulating human vision. Using two regular cameras - like the ones in your phone -- they made software that calculates depth the same way your own brain does, by comparing the difference between the images.
As a result, they can make machines see like us: indoors or outdoors, up to 20 meters away, and at 30fps at 1080p. Even Intel's RealSense sensors didn’t compare to the resolution, range or frame rate and can't work outside. Now their ZED sensor is being used in thousands of projects ranging from robots, drones, cars, and most recently, VR and AR.
"To do half the things our machines have promised us, they need to see the world. But compared to human vision, they can’t,” Schmollgruber said. “Our software cracked the code that lets them see just like us, with components that are cheap and widely available. Mother Nature was the first to get vision right. We are the second."
Cecile has thrived in a male-dominated industry and was recently profiled by Giorgio Armani as a rising entrepreneur alongside Cate Blanchett.
20. Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis, Co-Founders, Exo
Two Brown University students ordered 2,000 crickets to their house; Googled how to make cricket flour and the rest is history.
Exo is pioneering the consumption of insects via their first product - protein bars made with cricket flour.
Since starting the company straight out of university they have raised more than $6 million from notable investors, like Tim Ferriss, Collaborative Fund and Nas. They also brought on a three-Michelin-star chef as head of product development, and it is the first entomophagy company to raise a Series A. And this is all in a stagnant food industry that's ripe for disruption.
As it says on their site, “Insect protein has an awesome role to play in the future of our food. Now we just have to convince everyone else.”
21. Aaron Sherman, CEO, SevenFifty
It’s 2012. SevenFifty Co-Founders Aaron Sherman and Gianfranco Verga are working as sommeliers, bartenders and industry consultants, so they know firsthand how time-consuming, frustrating and antiquated the buying process is. The two - who met at NYU while studying abroad in Florence -- are working at Louis 649 in the East Village when they be-friend co-founder Neal Parikh, a Wall Street quantitative analyst, cocktail connoisseur and regular at the bar. The young trio brew up the concept for SevenFifty and begin working out of The Tippler, a bar in the basement of Chelsea Market.
It's 2016. SevenFifty has become the digital backbone of the wine and spirits industry and just announced their Series A round of $8.5 million. Having built an online platform that enables users to search and actually filter for products, streamline communications and improve buyer-distributer relationships, it's no wonder more than 700 distributors across 30 states are present on the SevenFifty platform - about 60 percent of the market -- representing roughly $20 billion in combined annual sales. Over 30,000 buyers, including Del Posto and Union Square Hospitality Group, are sourcing wines and spirits through SevenFifty.
22. Jamie Siminoff, Founder & Chief Inventor, Ring
Since founding Ring four years ago, Jamie has raised nearly $100 million from investors, like Richard Branson and grown the company from a team of three people working in his garage to more than 400 employees working in offices in Santa Monica and Scottsdale.
Siminoff created the world’s first video doorbell - a product that hadn’t been innovated in over 100 years. Today, his Ring Video Doorbell remains the only dual-powered product of its kind. While there are many smart home products available today, Siminoff knows the added value his product provides - the ability to proactively protect your home -- is both what matters to consumers and what sets the company apart.
"I founded Ring with the goal of reducing crime in neighborhoods, and that remains the company mission today. By taking a different approach to the doorbell, we were able to build the first pre-crime prevention system with the Ring Video Doorbell. This was proven in a long-term study with the LAPD where we were able to reduce crime in a community by 55 percent using the Ring Video Doorbell. At Ring, we're doing more than just creating a great product, we're making communities around the world safer, and that's why we work tirelessly every day,” Siminoff said.
23. Rodney Williams, CEO, LISNR
Featured in CNBC's Disruptor 50 in 2015 and 2016, as well as named Black Enterprise 2016 Tech Entrepreneur of the Year, it is safe to say that Rodney Williams is hitting his stride and picking up the pace.
LISNR, is a new protocol to connect devices, using inaudible tones to send data. Using existing speaker infrastructures, live events, sports teams, retailers and broadcasters can send second screen experiences to audiences everywhere.
Clients of LISNR include the Indianapolis Colts, GRAMMY awards and Budweiser's Made in America Festival. For their work with Budweiser, LISNR was awarded a 2015 Gold Lion for Innovation in Mobile at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
This year LISNR debuted a two-way protocol for devices making them a contender to be a standard mode of communication in the Internet of Things, authentication and contactless payments.
"The world is becoming a place where people need to be connected to the world around them and vice versa. Our long-term goal is to harness the original medium for a message to be delivered - through sound -- and bring it to the digital age,” Williams said. "LISNR is creating the Internet of Sound to help bring data and connectivity to more places than ever before. We’re data over audio."
24. Victor Wong, CEO, Thunder
While an undergrad at Yale, Victor Wong founded Thunder. It was dubbed by the New York Times as "an Ad Engine to put Mad Men out of Business."
The creative process previously required days of work. By incorporating programmatic into the creative ad process, Victor dramatically disrupted the status quo defined by Adobe, which was designed for individual high-end designers who had to work on one ad at a time. With the technology he pioneered at Thunder, creative isn’t just better; it’s a more efficient, accessible process.
25. Andrew Yakub, CEO, Rayton Solar
Andrew Yakub is a two-time CleanTech Entrepreneur and former NASA and UCLA lab engineer. Using a patented process, his company Rayton Solar has developed the technology to produce solar panels that are 60 percent less expensive and 25 percent more efficient than the industry standard.
Related: 2016's Women to Watch
Rayton Solar launched an equity crowdfunding campaign last month that hit $1 million in the first week.
“We know solar is the most sustainable energy source for the future of humanity. Solar needs a slight push to get it over that threshold where it can compete with fossil fuels. Rayton Solar’s technology is that push. Thanks to our Reg A+ campaign, now anyone can join us in bringing this vision to life,” Yakub said.
Bill Nye also provides a great push in their feature video.