Entrepreneurs

Business advice from some of America's fastest-growing companies

Stacy Brown, founder of Chicken Salad Chick 002
Source: Chicken Salad Chick
Stacy Brown, founder of Chicken Salad Chick 002

The stats on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America read like they could be a typo: 640,000 jobs created over the past three years with a growth rate of 490 percent in that time frame. The 5,000 companies' aggregate revenue was $200 billion in 2015.

But the fastest-growing private companies in America really are expanding quickly, and they are making a ton of cash along the way.

Many honorees convened at the annual gathering of Inc. Magazine's list in San Antonio, Texas.

Paint Nite co-founders Dan Hermann and Sean McGrail
Source: Paint Nite
Paint Nite co-founders Dan Hermann and Sean McGrail

For Dan Hermann, CEO of Paint Nite in Somerville, Massachusetts, landing on the list at No. 2 is a full-circle life moment.

The company he and Sean McGrail founded together in 2012, which organizes parties at bars where attendees paint under the instruction of a local artist, has grown more than 36,000 percent over the past three years, with $55 million in revenue in 2015 from taking a portion of ticket sales from their online platform.

Hermann has long admired the Inc. list, having once worked in the mail room at the magazine.

"It's exciting and flattering to be a part of that. It's a real reward not just for us but our whole team," he said. "I was excited to apply because I knew our growth was in that category."

The friends met at a local trivia night at a bar and realized they could make real money modeling a business that got people out to local venues in a similar way. To date, they have had four million customers come through the system in thousands of places across the globe including the U.S., South Africa, and Argentina.

"Week three, we had posted a lot of events and sold 350 tickets in 11 hours and realized this wasn't going to be an occasional, once-a-month thing. It was something we could host every day in Boston," McGrail said. They have recently done a smaller-scale launch of their next event, a plant-based night, in about 40 cities, and plan to continue that strategic growth.

Stacy Brown, founder of Chicken Salad Chick
Source: Chicken Salad Chick
Stacy Brown, founder of Chicken Salad Chick

Stacy Brown is also strategically growing her business, Chicken Salad Chick, which landed at No. 37 on Inc.'s list this year, raking in $9.8 million in 2015, with a growth rate of more than 6,000 percent in the past three years. The company now has 62 restaurants in eight different states selling, yes, chicken salad in 15 different flavor profiles.

Brown got the idea as a single mom in 2008, when she was "obsessed" with eating chicken salad and tried it everywhere she went. She began pursuing the perfect recipe and once she found it, started selling door-to-door in Auburn, Alabama.

"I was an aggressive salesperson, and it went kind of nuts. My phone was ringing off the hook," Brown said. "Then one day the Health Department called, and they let me know it was illegal to sell anything you've cooked at your home. So I had to shut down and make the decision whether I was going to go in a different direction or take the leap of faith and open a restaurant that only served chicken salad."

One local restaurant quickly turned into three, and then franchise requests began pouring in. Today about 80 percent of the company's stores are now franchised, and Brown said she plans to continue expanding concentrically out of the South and Midwest.

"I'm just proud of everybody that's come along with us that really believes in what we are doing," Brown said. "I can't believe there are that many chicken salad lovers out there."

The best business advice I ever got

Both Brown and Hermann say the best advice they've gotten, when it comes to their high-growth companies, came not from investors or advisers but from their parents.

"The best advice I ever received came from my mother: 'Do not be scared of change; depend on it,'" Brown said. "So when things are good, don't take them for granted because things will change. And when things are bad, don't dwell on them because things will change."

"It helps me keep everything in perspective."

"Don't wait until it's perfect." -Sean McGrail, co-founder, Paint Nite

For Hermann, the advice came from Dad.

"What comes to mind is something my dad used to say to me, which is, 'If you don't have any enemies, you haven't accomplished anything,'" he said. "I think that is helpful as you go down the path of growing that business, because there is a lot of rub along the way. You have to remember that is healthy and part of what you are going through. Not everyone will agree with all of your decisions."

And for Hermann's co-founder, McGrail, the go-to business advice is a mantra: "Perfect is the enemy of good enough."

"To scale as rapidly as we did, I think, was a wise decision," he said. "Instead of making sure everything was perfect when launching, just putting it out there the feedback was great and we would learn really quickly. For other entrepreneurs that is my advice. Don't wait until it's perfect. Go out there and put it in the world and you will learn."