October 15, 2012
Alan Hall, Contributor
100 Founders Share Their Top "Aha" Moments -- Guess How Many Jobs They've Created So Far?
Prepare to be stunned. Recently, I took issue with news reports questioning the role of small business as a source of new jobs. I summed it up with a remark from Jim Clifton, the Chairman of Gallup, from his new book The Coming Job Wars: These 100 entrepreneurs have shared the pivotal moments that set the direction for their companies and for their entrepreneurial careers.
“What the U.S. needs more than anything in its quest to win good new jobs in its cities is that rare talent [entrepreneurship] to start companies or to create new business models that work, that grow organizations—big ones, small ones, medium-sized ones, sustainable ones.”
To test my assumptions further, my associate Cheryl Conner issued an invitation last week to successful founders (whose companies survived 5 years or more). We asked them to share the pivotal “aha” moments that solidified their decision to go forward and set the direction for their entrepreneurial careers. We also asked them to tell us how many jobs their idea created.
The responses floored us. In less than 24 hours, more than 200 company founders responded. Their stories amazed us, and the number of jobs astounded us even more.
Granted, this is unscientific data. We compiled the stories and totaled the job results of the first 100 who were able to finalize their stories with us within the space of a day. If we missed your story, we’re sorry – feel free to include it in comments. If we included less than you hoped to tell us, feel free to make those additions in the comment section as well. Already, this compilation is beyond anything I have published here yet.
Several (12) of the companies were younger than 5 years, but because they responded with such compelling stories, we let their submissions remain (although they have been noted with an asterisk.)
So clearly this is not a pristine statistical survey. However, it is my hope that it will leave you inspired. Are you ready? The 100 firms we present to you today have collectively created a total of 69,224 jobs. This is not a typo. These 100 “aha’s” have very literally led to the creation of an average of 692 jobs apiece.
Here are their stories. I welcome your responses. If there is sufficient interest, I will consider a sequel. Enjoy!
1. Jim Bodden, 1-888-WOW-1DAY! Painting, 100 jobs, www.wow1daypainters.com
I was seeking a way to differentiate my painting company from the others. My “aha” moment came when I realized that speed without sacrificing quality was the answer. People hate having their homes taken over by painting crews so why not complete painting project in one day? If two painters can paint 10 rooms in 5 days, why not get 10 painters to paint the same 10 rooms in one day?
2. Chris Sloan & Carla Kaufman Sloan, 2C Media, 350 jobs, www.2cmedia.com
Our “aha” moment came when we figured out we could leave the craziness of showbiz in Los Angeles and start our own entertainment studio in Miami, a move many thought was crazy, but here we are now one of the largest independent TV production entities outside of Los Angeles and New York.
3. Matt Fifer, 8th & Walton, 25 jobs, www.8thandwalton.com
My “aha” moment came from watching supplier teams that were struggling to grasp the fundamentals of doing business with Walmart. In 2006, I founded 8th & Walton and began training and consulting Walmart’s supplier teams all over the world.
4. Tarek Fadel, AdaptiBar, 8 employees, www.adaptibar.com
While sitting through a lecture-based bar exam prep course, I was desperate to find a better way to study. My “aha” moment happened when I withdrew from the exam to develop a personalized, adaptive tool. I used my own program to pass on the first try, and now thousands of students worldwide benefit from AdaptiBar.
5. Alan Dabbiere, AirWatch, 800 jobs, www.air-watch.com
When I watched Steve Jobs reveal the iPhone at Macworld, I knew that device would dramatically change the way people interact and the way businesses operate. We immediately recalibrated our operations to manage smartphones for the business market. Since then, AirWatch has grown to support more than 4,000 customers and manage millions of smartphones and tablets in 47 countries.
6. Toma Clark Haines, *The Antiques Diva & Co European Tours, 12 jobs, www.antiquesdiva.com
No one – not your mother, your clients or the vendors you’re working with – wants to tell you “No” when you ask for something; most people want to find a way to tell you “Yes”. My “aha” moment was when I realized this and started asking for what I wanted in life.
7. Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc., 14 jobs, www.anvilmediainc.com
After getting fired twice in a 2-year period, I realized I was unemployable and therefore, had to become an entrepreneur. I started Anvil Media in 2000 and since then, Anvil has been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the country for the past five years.
8. Kenny Rosenblatt, Arkadium, Inc., 140 employees, www.arkadium.com
When my wife and I were dating, we had an ongoing bet about who was the best Ms. Pac-Man player. We searched online for a site that would let us challenge one another, but we couldn’t find anything. This inspired us to start our own game development studio, one which now boasts the largest library of Flash-based games in the world, and serves some of the most distinguished brands, including CNN, Discovery, Hearst, Lifetime and Microsoft.
9. Adam Aronson, Arrowsight, Inc., 60 jobs, www.arrowsight.com
My epiphany came when I realized the remote video auditing technology I was using to monitor daycare workers could revolutionize the meat processing industry. Our platform is now in more than 50 percent of the beef industry in the United States. We are expanding into pork and poultry, plus hospitals to monitor patient care.
10. Tiffany Krumins, AVA the Elephant Brand*, 30 jobs, www.avatheelephant.com
After years of working with children who have special needs I couldn’t stand the thought of one more breakdown at medicine time. My “aha” moment – Realizing the medicine dropper needed to be shaped like a friendly animal with a comforting voice. I created the first AVA the Elephant at home and knew I had something special when it worked like a charm the next day at work!
11. Molly Fienning, Babiators*, 4 employees, www.babiators.com
My “aha” moment came while waiting in a flight line for my husband to fly home from a deployment. The entire squadron’s families were there too, with children squinting in the bright sun. If the pilots have cool military-issued aviator sunglasses, why can’t the children have some too? My husband and our best friends loved the idea. Babiators was formed!
12. Matthew Griffin, Bakers Edge, 15 jobs, www.BakersEdge.com
Baker’s Edge launched with a product marketed as a better baking pan. Sales were slow. I had my “aha” moment at a hobby and gift show. People were excited that the pan could bake brownies with all edges. We quickly changed the name to “Edge Brownie Pan” and sales exploded.
13. Rohit Arora, Biz2Credit.com, 50 jobs, www.biz2credit.com
My “aha” moment came in 2007. I constantly met successful business owners who told me they were denied funding even at the height of the credit boom. I set up Biz2Credit as an online platform to help entrepreneurs navigate the small business lending process and secure capital.
14. Michael Chasen, Blackboard, 3,000 jobs, www.blackboard.com
Applying to business schools was tedious so I drafted a plan for electronic applications. No takers. I still saw huge potential for technology to transform teaching and learning – colleges had to be where the students were. A friend and I started Blackboard, which now improves the education experience for millions.
15. Wil Schroter, Blue Diesel, 13,000 jobs, www.bluediesel.com
In 2007, I was about 3 years into building website company Blue Diesel and well over $100,000 in personal debt from self-funding my first startup. Aha. After merging with a small ad agency, we brought our 40-person team to pitch pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Lily gave us its entire franchise of products – more than $250 million in capitalized billings per year. I’ve since started 8 web companies, including Fundable.com.
16. Sheridan Becker, Bon Voyage, 15 jobs, www.bonvoyagemagazine.com
I’m an American but I’ve been working in Europe for 10 years. Our “aha” moment was when I figured out I could successfully publish as well as distribute books and magazines throughout Europe – and the world. Everyone pushed us to use the Internet – and we did. We are not an Oprah or Martha, but we don’t have to be BIG winners to be successful.
17. Bob Bernstein, Bongo Productions, LLC, 140 jobs, www.bongojava.com
After moving to Nashville to pursue journalism, I found myself loving the city, but unhappy with my career. My big “aha” moment came when I realized that my drive to be an entrepreneur was stronger than my drive to be a writer.
18. Daniel Gleich, Broad Financial, 20 jobs, www.broadfinancial.com
My “aha” moment came when I tried to invest a family member’s retirement funds in a piece of real estate, but couldn’t find a platform that allowed me to easily do so. From this frustration was born the idea for a company that would enable America to invest its IRAs in alternative assets.
19. Tom Cates, The Brookeside Group, 15 jobs, www.brookeside.com
During my MBA program, a professor told me, “Never worry about how big a market is – worry about how big it has to be.” I realized then that I had to not only identify the market but also believe in myself and my ability to do something better than others.
20. Kelly Delaney, Cakes for Occasions, 15 jobs, www.cakes4occasions.com
After giving birth, I was forced to watch my staff present a wedding cake on the Today show from my hospital bed. By giving up control, I realized I had to put faith in my staff and work on my business rather than in my business. The staff doubled over five years!
21. Gary Kneller, CareMinders Home Care, 1500 jobs, www.careminders.com
My “aha” moment came in the mid 2000′s when I was diagnosed with stage three Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Having witnessed firsthand the shortcomings in the home healthcare industry, I was especially motivated to find a way to deliver quality care that goes beyond what I ever received as a patient. We’re now at 35 offices with 10 more projected by the end of the year.
22. Nicholas Holland, CentreSource Inc., 35 jobs, www.centresource.com
My “aha” moment came through a client experience with a 70+-year-old businessman who had changed his viewpoint on success. That’s when my company, CentreSource, became an interactive agency that did work with the end goal in mind: it was our job to satisfy our customers.
23. David Moore, City Rewards Network, 50 jobs, www.cityrewardsnetwork.com
I got started in 2001 selling advertising on my coupon platform (now called City Rewards Network). About 6 months later, I was having breakfast in a restaurant that had purchased my program. I looked up at the line at the cash register and realized that over half the people in the very long line were holding one of my coupons. It felt surreal to realize I had created something that really worked and people wanted to buy. That one moment energized me enough to expand into 20 markets.
24. Michael Cohn, Cloud Sherpas, 300 jobs, www.cloudsherpas.com
I worked as an IBM reseller in 2007. We were hosting a Lotus Notes version launch event. The look on the faces of the buyers in that room was telling: another expensive upgrade offering incremental value. Light bulb! Could we sell Google Apps to Enterprise? Today we’re Google’s leading Enterprise partner.
25. Mark Carpenter, Columbia Roofing and Sheet Metal, 70 jobs, www.reroofnow.com
My “aha” moment happened when I realized my green roofing business was being driven from the plant side of the product and not the roofing side. I secured several patents and I took the product to market. It is now a successful business on its own.
26. C. Brian Fox, Confirmation.com, 35 jobs, www.confirmation.com
My “aha” moment: While literally watching a fax machine for 30 minutes because my supervisors at the Big 6 accounting firm believed it would stop financial fraud, I realized there was no way to verify that it was actually the bank faxing confirmation of my clients assets, or someone pretending to be the bank. Our secure clearing-house validates the bank’s identity for the external auditors and is what allowed us to uncover the $215M Peregrine Financial Group (PFG) fraud in July.
27. Casey Halloran, Costa Rican Vacations & Panama Luxury Vacations, 100 jobs, www.vacationscostarica.com, www.vacationtopanama.com
In 1999, I co-founded an online travel agency in San Jose, Costa Rica. I was fresh out of college and running a web design business. My roommate Tony, a fellow U.S. expat, had an idea to start an online newsletter about Costa Rica. We solicited free stays at hotels in exchange for write-ups. Readers began to email us requesting travel advice. Our “aha moment” came when we realized we could charge for this service.
28. Pawan Deshpande, Curata, 15 jobs, http://www.curata.com
When we were searching for a market for Curata, we allowed several beta customers to test our content curation software. My “aha” moment came when a customer offered to pay for the software after successfully using it for marketing his company, proving that our software did provide significant value.
29. Chris Golec, Demandbase, 100 jobs, www.demandbase.com
We formed Demandbase to address the incredible inefficiencies in online marketing for B2B marketers. The ultimate “aha” came when we developed a “zero-waste” advertising solution: only serve ads to companies that are in your target market and have a chance to buy. Customers are wowed when they see how personalized targeting can increase revenue.
30. Snehal Shinde, Dhingana, 50 jobs, www.dhingana.com
In 2007, my brother and I noticed the increasing popularity of music streaming services like Pandora. Our “aha” moment came when we realized there was nothing like it for Bollywood music. We founded Dhingana, which has become the largest Bollywood music streaming service.
31. Samantha DiGennaro, DiGennaro Communications, 35 jobs, www.digennaro-usa.com/
I spent 15 years as a corporate communications executive at global companies. While I loved my role, organizational politics starved my soul. I was one of few women sitting among the c-suite. I knew I could build a better alternative — a company with strong values, employee flexibility and a family environment — to pave the path for talented professionals who challenge the status quo and break rules!
32. Mike Kawula, Discount Cleaning Products & Office Supplies*, 5 jobs, www.discountcleaningproducts.com
My “aha” moment came when I realized recently much of my day as an owner of a 3 year old fast growing company was spent working “in” the business as Michael Gerber would say verse “on” my business, which held us back from even faster growth. Recently I’ve entrusted employees more and outsourced my mundane work to allow me to strategically plan, monitor and tweak for continued growth. I believe this will move us from $3 million to $5.5-$6 Million in 2013!
33. Louis Foreman, Edison Nation, 60 jobs, www.edisonnation.com
We were hosting casting calls for our inventor reality series Everyday Edisons and traveling with our team across the country. There were lots of great ideas, but we only feature ten inventors a season, causing us to turn away many with potential. My “aha” – develop EdisonNation.com where anyone can submit ideas 24/7 for a chance at development and licensing. Better deal for the inventors and our team.
34. Bob Din, En Pointe Technologies, 1,700 jobs, www.enpointe.com
In 1985, a fast food business I invested in was seeing no return. I decided to computerize the accounts after realizing things were a bit messy on the management side of things. I bought an IBM PC, but quickly realized I needed a hard disk, a tape back, etc. Being prudent, I called several places and obtained different advice and varying price ranges for the same product! That’s when I realized there was a huge opportunity here: if I can provide correct information, a reasonable price, and exceptional service, I will be successful. That year, I bought a ComputerLand business and grew it to $700 million annual revenue by 1999. Today, as En Pointe, it has more than 500 associates in the United States and another 1200 globally.
35. Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJobs, 27 direct workers have helped 300,000+ find jobs, www.flexjobs.com
My “aha” moment came from my search for a flexible telecommuting job. I quickly become frustrated at all the scams in the work-from-home niche and I knew plenty of job seekers felt the same. Aha! I solved my own job search problem by creating FlexJobs, where job seekers can find scam-free telecommuting and flexible job listings. Five years later, I work from home and managing a team of 27 telecommuters!
36. Simon Khalaf, Flurry*, 100 jobs, www.flurry.com
I saw the iPhone App Store in July 2008 and thought, “This is the next trillion dollar opportunity.” After that, we placed Flurry on the path to be the platform for app measurement and advertising. Today, we employ more than 100 people, have a sizeable revenue stream and are cash-flow positive.
37. Michael Menard, The GenSight Group, 60 jobs, www.gensight.com
At the peak of my career as the vice president of engineering for Johnson & Johnson, I was responsible for allocating $2 million in capital spending. I had no clue if the decisions I was making were correct. Aha. I resigned and spent 3 months developing a methodology for corporate decision making. I started The GenSight Group and those methodologies have been implemented by corporations such as Coca-Cola, Cisco and Pfizer.
38. Krishna Gopinathan, Global Analytics, 400 jobs, www.global-analytics.com
I had always wanted to “give back,” but I wasn’t sure how to do that in my field of analytics. My epiphany came when I found a way to build a software platform with advanced analytics that serves people with low access to credit, increasing their options and empowering them to save money.
39. Luke Richey, Gravity Jack*, 40 jobs, www.gravityjack.com
My 7-year old son asked for $5 to buy a jacket for a vampire on a website. I asked him what was the benefit of an online 2D avatar? He didn’t know. I knew augmented reality provided benefits. I wanted part of the virtual goods market. I still use a small purple puppy to represent the vampire avatar during investor meetings.
40. Brian H. Sharples, HomeAway, Inc., 1100 jobs, www.homeaway.com
Prior to 2005, it was difficult to find vacation rentals online. I experienced that personally while traveling with my family (aha!), and as a result, co-founded HomeAway, Inc. HomeAway now offers travelers 735,000 properties throughout 168 countries while enabling our customers to generate an average of $26,000 in rental income per year.
41. Debra Cohen, Homeowner Referral Network, 300 jobs, www.hrnbiz.com
Most homeowners know how hard it is to find a good contractor. I decided to do something about it. When a squirrel took residence in my attic and I couldn’t find a competent exterminator, it inspired me to create a business that would save other homeowners the same heartache. I believe that you should provide a service that helps people, keep it simple and maintain a personal touch.
42. Jay Schwartz, IdeaWork Studios, 15 jobs, www.ideawork.com
My “aha” moment came when my ex business partner decided to leave the business… it was a challenging economy and the agency was saddled with debt. He wanted to close the business and walk away, but I insisted on continuing on my own. I re-focused to key-in on the facets of this business that I could control. I streamlined our services and concentrated on what I did best.
43. Joel Pilger, Impossible TV, 42 jobs,