Fast-growing Missouri companies lend advice for startups

Missouri placed 72 companies on the annual Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States. The top four Missouri companies on the list released last month were AdKarma, an advertising agency in Columbia; Pendo Management Group, a real estate company in Lee’s Summit; Gemini Consulting & Services, an IT company in St. Louis; and GME Supply, a Columbia company that sells contractor equipment and industrial supplies.

Missouri Business Alert asked the executives of these four small companies with extraordinary revenue growth during the past three years what advice they would give to operators of early stage companies looking to expand. Here is a summary of their answers:

1. Look for opportunities in a niche market

All great startups begin with an opportunity or problem within a market that needs to be solved. To grow, you need to identify a central goal and focus all your attention on that. “I personally feel that for any new startup, please do invest all your energies to shape the company in a niche product, niche sector where you particularly feel that there is a good opportunity,” Gemini Vice President Srini Raj said. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to pay attention to the evolving markets and be able to see when there are needs or problems to be solved. “Once you get in the habit of always looking for the next opportunity, or any deficiency or how you can make anything better, you’ll start seeing those opportunities all over the place,” Pendo co-founder Jeff Sandman said.

12. Don’t get too comfortable

Startups aren’t always as glamorous as they sound. An entrepreneur must never stop moving forward and improving operations within the company, according to Beau Aero, president of GME Supply. “If you’re complacent and do the same things that you’ve always done, your competitors will take note and figure out a way to do it better.”  It’s important to stay on your toes and try to figure out what’s next. “I would always keep my eye on the future, what’s happening, what’s around the corner,” said Bobby Campbell, CEO and founder of AdKarma. “Whether it’s keeping your pulse on technology or what’s happening in different industries, consuming lots and lots of information is an important thing for a CEO of a business to do.”

3. Make your customers your number one priority 

Tailoring to clients is a very important part of gaining trust and maintaining good relationships. “Hustle and desire takes you a long way, technology will only do so much and then you need to have the desire to do a good job to provide a good service and to really hustle for your clients,” Campbell said. Spending long hours and working on the weekend is a common occurrence with startup companies. Sandman was prepared for it, though, as he and his business partner came in with the goal of giving their clients concierge-level service.  “We really came with the motto that if we can provide the level of service we would be happy with as customers, then there are very few people that wouldn’t be pleased with that,” Sandman said.

4. Find employees who will fit in with the flow 

To maintain a productive work environment, it’s important to find employees who will feel comfortable and valued. “When you have an employee that fits into that culture well, it’s like planting a plant in the right type of soil, in the right condition; they’ll thrive then,” Aero said. Talented employees are what drive a company to expansion and rapid growth, Campbell said. Columbia has provided the perfect place to find those talented individuals, he said. “If you don’t have good talent, you can’t grow a company,” Campbell said. “Finding a community where you have a good source of talent, and a lot of time college towns are a good source for talent, is a great place to do a startup.”

5. Stand out from the competition

Each executive stressed the importance of setting your company apart from others that offer similar services and products. “Definitely differentiate yourself,” Sandman said. “Find what you’re good at and what you like, and exploit that and make that work.” One way to differentiate your company is to give clients unmatched customer service and give employees unmatched opportunities to grow and prosper. “Make sure that you differentiate from others in terms of feeling that the customer as well as the employees are a two way concept, that you take care of both of them and give the coordinance and leadership to a level where you can be a trend setter,” Raj said.

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