Year after year we hear it: “Only in America!”
When we first honored four forward-thinking entrepreneurs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1986, we had only just begun to recognize the ingenuity that is the hallmark of American business prowess. Now, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® reaches across the country to encompass nearly 10,000 distinguished American alumni celebrated in 25 U.S. regional programs. And from its inception in the heartland, the program now spans the globe, taking place in 145 cities and 60 countries worldwide.
We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the award’s 30th anniversary. We salute the visionaries who launch and reimagine businesses, employ millions and endow your communities, leaving legacies of accomplishment and enrichment while setting the pace for generations of entrepreneurs to come.
We honor their passion, innovation and perseverance as we salute 30 years of ingenuity in America.
Congratulations to this year’s award recipients and finalists whose stories you’ll read about in the following pages. If you know an entrepreneur who should be recognized as we begin our fourth decade, please let us know.
EY Entrepreneur of the Year Northern
California Program Director and Partner
Ernst & Young LLP
EMERGING (WINNER) Mike Farley, Tile | (FINALIST) Vivek Ravisankar, HackerRank (FINALIST) Manish Chandra, Poshmark FINANCIAL SERVICES (WINNER) Tien Tzuo & John Zitzner, Zuora | (FINALIST) Jonathan Corr, Ellie Mae | HEALTHCARE (WINNER) Lisa Earnhardt, Intersect ENT | (FINALIST) Nate Gross, MD, Jeff Tangney, Doximity | (FINALIST) Brent Lang, Vocera Communications, Inc. | RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS (WINNER) James Park, Fitbit | (FINALIST) Rainer Castillo, Kyle Hency Tom Montgomery & Preston Rutherford, Chubbies (FINALIST) Emily Meyer & Leigh Rawdon, Tea Collection SERVICES (WINNER) Lily Sarafan, Home Care Assistance | (FINALIST) Myla Ramos, Search Pros Solutions | (FINALIST) Jes Pedersen, Webcor Builders SOFTWARE (WINNER) Maury Blackman, Accela | (FINALIST) Stefan Groschupf, Datameer | (FINALIST) Clara Shih, Hearsay Social
Here are the 2016 Entrepreneurs Of The Year for Northern California
CEO and Co-Founder
CEO Mike Farley co-founded Tile with a simple idea: He wanted to help people who were always losing things. His wife, Camila, was one of those people. Among the many things she’s lost: two driver’s licenses, a wallet, a half dozen jackets, a pair of gold earrings, a cellphone, car keys, motorcycle keys, backpacks, credit cards and a rental car.
After Camila lost her mother’s emerald and ruby ring, she cried for days. And that’s when Farley figured other people had the same problem and decided to test his idea with a crowdfunding campaign.
Tile — the name of the core product and the company — quickly struck a nerve. Less than 1 percent of the world’s products have a location built into them, but as the trend continues to grow estimates are that within five to 10 years that number will grow significantly.
Because of this, the community saw Farley’s vision and stepped up. Tile became one of the most successful crowdfunded companies in history — setting Farley and his vision for helping people find things on its way.
But Tile’s first few years weren’t easy. Farley navigated his startup through tricky product development and growing pains of learning how to scale the manufacturing process. Finally, he was able to secure Series A funding and a tier one manufacturer, Jabil, which allowed Tile to produce a premier-level product at scale.
As a result, just two years after selling its products to the marketplace, Tile counts more than 1 million customers and was the No. 1 best-seller at Best Buy during the 2015 holiday shopping season. The company has nearly 70 employees and has shipped more than 4.5 million Tile units that help people locate more than 500,000 items every day, fulfilling Farley’s original dream of becoming a company that solves “the location of things.” ●
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CEO and Co-Founder
Vivek Ravisankar has disrupted the traditional hiring process for software coding engineers around the world, effectively neutralizing gender, ethnicity, geographic location and country of origin hiring biases. Ravisankar, CEO and co-founder of HackerRank, has a mission to flatten the world by creating a hiring process that is based on merit, rather than pedigree. He finds the traditional method of evaluating resumes is holding back companies from finding the right talent. Ravisankar’s recruiting and technical evaluation platform serves millions of developers as well as companies trying to hire skilled and passionate engineers.
As engineers compete against each other in HackerRank’s developed CodeChallenges, HackerRank creates a credential system that measures baseline qualifications based solely on coding technical skills. Access is provided to its platform free of charge to hundreds of thousands of developers on a daily basis, allowing those seeking jobs from top companies to understand the skills necessary to obtain those jobs and participate in practice challenges in order to prepare and enhance their skills.
Ravisankar sees programming as literacy, encouraging the world to develop a skill set to dissect problems. He applies this same philosophy to management in order to retain employees. He challenges each of his employees to target their maximum potential, always encouraging them to dissect the problem or their next step into smaller subtasks, similar to the way one would develop a response to a coding problem.
All HackerRank programmers have come through HackerRank challenges. One of Ravisankar’s contests — open to engineers around the world — led to the hiring of one of the top performers at the company.
Ravisankar’s promotion of a meritocracy has helped millions of developers regardless of background, experience or location, better position themselves to qualify for jobs and land jobs with top companies. ●
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CEO and Founder
Manish Chandra is the CEO and founder of Poshmark, the largest community marketplace for fashion run on a mobile platform that empowers millions of women to connect to buy, sell and share their personal styles. Chandra has always been passionate about building human relationships through community-focused endeavors and founded the first social shopping company, Kaboodle, which was acquired by Hearst Corp. in 2007.
His experience in the entrepreneurial world has helped to mold and develop his distinct leadership style as both an explicit and silent leader. In times of confusion and uncertainty, Chandra is able to clearly and confidently articulate the shared vision of the company, reassuring his employees that they play a critical role in creating a positive impact on the community. He also exemplifies silent leadership, which focuses on empowering employees to make effective decisions.
Chandra has created a work environment of mutual trust and respect, which encourages open communication at all levels. Over the years, he has developed a core management team comprised of ambitious individuals who share a common vision of building a company that empowers millions of women to come together every day to buy and sell clothes from each other. Chandra’s strong dedication to building a passionate community, and to changing the way women think about shopping, has contributed to his ability to recruit and retain top management even during the earlier years when Poshmark operated solely on venture debt.
Those that choose to be a part of the Poshmark family do so because they believe in what Poshmark stands for and in its long-term vision under the leadership of Chandra. The primary focus of the board and management is on value creation for the users and the community versus increased valuation for the company. His people philosophy is simple — surround yourself with the best of the best and treat those individuals with love and respect. ●
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CEO and Co-Founder
As a co-founder of Zuora, CEO Tien Tzuo is one of the evangelical leaders of the Software as a Service industry. An early employee at Salesforce, he had extensive and in-depth understanding of SaaS and its potential to redefine the meaning of customer relationships. His vision is to provide a platform that can support the dramatic shift of providing and consuming products from “ownership” to “membership.”
Like other startups, Zuora faced investor skepticism, especially since there were only a handful of SaaS providers at the company’s inception.
It also went through operational hiccups, such as periods when its systems were down and pushing bad code into production, which adversely affected customers’ operations. Zuora used this experience to implement quality reviews and test suites to ensure new code or products perform as expected.
One of Tzuo’s mantras is: “If you’re not out to change the world, you’ll never get people excited.” He believes in fostering the culture of a ZEO, where employees are challenged to be a CEO of their destiny, success and impact.
Each department and employee creates a mission and vision statement that ties back to Zuora’s corporate mission and vision. Each employee is reviewed quarterly and must answer the question: What is your contribution to changing the world?
An example of employees going outside of their day-to-day responsibilities is the Seed Edition, where a team of Zuora employees built a solution for energetic seed-stage startups.
Corporate philanthropic giving also has been a tenant of Tzuo’s career. Starting with the 2011 holiday season, Zuora launched a corporate giving campaign on Twitter.
In partnership with Network for Good, Zuora customers, employees, friends and family gave away $10 to a charity of their choice by promoting the charity on social media with the #ZuoraForGood hashtag. In total, Zuora donated $10,000. ●
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CEO and President
Since joining Ellie Mae more than 13 years ago, CEO and President Jonathan Corr has desired to be the leading driver of end-to-end mortgage automation. His vision that everything, from the initial consumer interaction to the final investor delivery, should be electronic is intertwined with Ellie Mae’s focus on leveraging technology to help lenders be successful and reduce costs, while maintaining regulatory compliance.
This has allowed Corr to be successful is his laser focus and commitment to his customers, employees and community. Currently, under Corr’s leadership, Ellie Mae has grown to more than 166,000 users on its Software as a Service platform.
When the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis hit, competitors were blindsided and the mortgage lending industry was “demonized” by the public. Origination process quality was not a top priority for most companies.
Corr and Ellie Mae’s focus on compliance, however, strengthened trust with existing clients, and even won new clients. By focusing on an end-to-end origination solution, the company weathered the storm, as customers now needed this functionality that previously was not as valuable to lenders.
The people at Ellie Mae care about each other, and they also care about their community.
Corr encourages his Ellie Mae team to participate in philanthropy, such as EllieCares, an employee-inspired community outreach program in which employees have days where they are paid to volunteer at an organization of their choosing, without counting against their vacation time. The program also matches employee contributions to company-sponsored fundraising events.
By fostering a culture of philanthropy, it helps employees believe that they are not only revolutionizing the mortgage lending industry, but also making a positive impact on their community.
Under Corr’s leadership, Ellie Mae has been a winner of the Bay Area Best Places to Work for four years in row. ●
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CEO and Founder
As the CEO and founder of Veritas Investments, Pang Au has attracted institutional capital and talent to an underserved real estate asset class that within five years has led Veritas to become the largest owner operator of apartments and ground floor retail in San Francisco.
Pang believes that rent control is positive for San Francisco and that maximizing underutilized space benefits the greater good — core philosophies that set him apart from others in the industry.
By operating at scale, Veritas is able to provide long-term residents with stability while still welcoming those new to San Francisco, creating positive community and relationships. Simultaneously, the company is upgrading units and buildings while preserving historic character, curating vibrant ground-floor retail and creating positive returns for investors.
Veritas partners with industry leaders, especially those with forward-thinking technology services. For example, Veritas is one of the largest solar providers in the San Francisco multifamily industry, an asset that provides residents the dual benefit of environmental consciousness and lower costs. His other collaborations have allowed residents to gain access to innovative amenities such as third-party remote unit access for grocery delivery or dog walking services. The company has the largest leasing team in San Francisco, and it uses an array of social media networks to reach prospective tenants and flexible showing schedules, differentiating Veritas from its competition.
Pang leads by example with his “solve and resolve” spirit. He is known among his employees as a humble man who goes above and beyond for every person on staff. He believes that when a team is collaborating, ideas are generated and problems are solved, so he solicits feedback and views risks and failures as lessons to be learned.
Employees are invested in the Veritas’ collaborative culture, and the company’s long-term, civic-minded, purpose-driven efforts are improving the lives of many in the Bay Area. ●
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CEO and President
When Lisa Earnhardt joined Intersect ENT as the CEO and president in 2008, the company was in the development stage. It employed a dozen people and had just failed its clinical study for the world’s first drug-eluting sinus implant. Under Earnhardt’s leadership, Intersect has subsequently brought two products to market within a four-year period — a remarkable accomplishment in the medical device industry, especially for such innovative technology.
The company went public in 2014 and today employs more than 300 people. Earnhardt’s leadership and expertise have propelled the company to success with more than 100,000 patients treated to date.
The story of Intersect started in 2003 when founders Don Eaton and ear, nose and throat physician Mary Lynn Moran met over dinner and conceived the product on the back of a napkin. The company received its first round of venture capital funding in 2006, which allowed it to commence initial operations.
When Earnhardt joined the team in 2008, she recalls somewhat in jest that “at that time, the patient did not feel the device when implanted, and the product did not fall out,” which looked very promising. With her background in cardiac surgery products, Earnhardt was already familiar with the drug eluting technology and she quickly grasped the commercial opportunities of applying this technology to the ENT market.
Earnhardt creates a very clear vision for her employees and other company stakeholders. She has assembled a long-serving, dedicated team with a strong focus on providing quality service to physicians, patients and payers. The core leadership team has been with the company since 2008, illustrating the strong and trustful relationship that Earnhardt has built among her teammates over the years. Her constant focus on patient care and strong belief that physicians are the driver of growth convinced stakeholders to share her long-term vision. ●
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CEO and Co-Founder
Five years ago, Co-founders Jeff Tangney and Nate Gross decided to start Doximity to enable physicians to communicate freely and easily so that physicians are more effective and efficient, and patients can receive better care.
Today, Doximity is a clear reflection of their dream. More than two-thirds of U.S. physicians use Doximity to share sensitive patient data, easily connect with other physicians and broadly share their research.
The company differentiates itself since it focuses on connecting physicians to physicians and the competition is primarily focused on connecting patients to physicians.
Tangney, CEO, and Gross have not only focused on keeping the physicians’ needs and best interests in mind but also dedicated significant time and effort in building a great team. They lead the company with the focus on following three principles: physicians first, check egos at the door and humbled by data.
The team is committed to staying close to the doctors. They organize “summits” where about 50 doctors spend a day and a half with the developers and provide their input into the beta products.
To keep things fresh and reduce silos as the company grows, Tangney and Gross created mixed team competitions to work toward quarterly company goals.
They share the company’s progress in weekly all-company meetings and keep the team in the loop on big decisions. Doximity also has promoted a culture of open communication that includes “DocLuv” testimonials from doctors to remind everyone how their work saves physicians time and positively impacts their daily practice.
Simultaneously, Tangney and Gross have made sure to support the community. Doximity has supported organizations such as Doctors Without Borders by leveraging the recruitment product to help connect them to doctors with the right experience and availability to help others in countries of need. ●
CEO and President
Vocera Communications, Inc.
Vocera Communications, Inc. provides real-time communication solutions to securely connect physicians, nurses and staff with voice, text messaging and critical health care data from any device. Brent Lang, the first business leader to join the founders of Vocera in 2001, commercialized the company’s offering.
Since 2013, Lang has led Vocera as CEO and president, driving the company’s evolution from a startup developing a beta product to a New York Stock Exchange listed company with a full suite of products, helping save lives every day by making it easy to reach the right person at the right time, regardless of device or location. Today the solution operates on wearable Vocera communication badges, smartphones, Apple Watch and desktop browsers.
Since starting with Vocera, Lang has developed the business plan and defined the pricing model. While the founders of Vocera had originally intended to sell only the communication badges, Lang envisioned Vocera not to be just a hardware company, but rather a software and service business as well. Today, Vocera provides the communication badge to hospitals as well as an in-house developed app for smartphones and smartwatches, selling its products as a suite of hardware and software licenses coupled with a maintenance agreement.
The company’s path hasn’t been without obstacles. In the mid-2000s, Vocera released a communication badge that later became incompatible with Cisco’s newer wireless communication infrastructure in hospitals. Lang and the leadership team agreed to reissue new badges for all impacted customers, nearly resulting in bankruptcy for Vocera. That action, however, established a precedent for putting the customer first. Lang’s actions helped build stronger customer relationships 10 years down the road, and he continues to lead Vocera with integrity, a culture of compassion and the drive to directly impact the lives of nurses and patients. ●
CEO, President and Co-Founder
When James Park, CEO and president, arrived at 6 a.m. at a Best Buy in San Francisco’s Mission District to wait in line to buy the new Nintendo Wii game unit, he had no idea his life — and the lives of millions of others — was about to change.
The Wii’s innovative accelerometer technology in its hand-held controller inspired Park and his business partner, Eric Friedman, to design and develop something more impactful to help people become healthier and more active.
In 2007, the serial entrepreneurs co-founded Fitbit, a company that designs, develops and markets wearable technology. Park’s vision was to provide people with something fun that harnessed the power of technology, data and insights to inspire others to live their healthiest and most active lives.
Park’s path from mind to market wasn’t easy. It took two full years and a lot of trial and error to fine-tune the technology before rolling out the first Fitbit unit in 2009.
Through perseverance, they succeeded, and today Fitbit has developed and produced nine different products that are available in more than 50,000 retail stores in 63 countries. Park’s company is No. 1 by market share in the global wearables market and on the leading edge of the emerging digital health platform industry.
Because of this, Park is finding ways to parlay the company’s success into corporate philanthropy through FitforFood and FitforGood, which provide users the opportunity to donate their steps to different charities.
And while he continues to focus on delivering world-class product designs and software to an ever-growing global community of users, Park is looking ahead to the future, plotting Fitbit’s next evolution. He plans to build upon recent innovations like heart-rate tracking technology and those that monitor activity level, sleep and nutrition to help mitigate the effects of chronic diseases. ●
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Tom Montgomery, Kyle Hency, Preston Rutherford and Rainer Castillo together make up the CEO-quartet behind Chubbies, a company they founded to bring the relaxed feeling of the weekend to consumers everywhere.
The co-founders wanted to create something with value that would have a positive and lasting global impact. Hency had a pair of vintage shorts handed down from his uncle (or Goodwill); these shorts became the “traveling shorts” within their group of friends. They represented a feeling of nostalgia, and joy most associated with the weekend. In order to test if it resonated with others, the founders created a small batch of shorts to sell on a Fourth of July trip. The shorts sold out within minutes and received overwhelming support.
One by one, the four co-founders quit their jobs and went all in. While Chubbies started with a pair of 5 ½-inch inseam shorts, the business has become more than a pair of nostalgic shorts. Every decision they make is calculated and must support their mission of providing product and content that delivers the feeling of joy associated with 5 p.m. on a Friday. They’re writing their own destiny.
While Hency handles finance and operations, Rutherford handles e-commerce, Montgomery handles marketing and Castillo handles production and design — all acting as one powerful CEO. They interplay off each other and hold one another accountable to delivering their ethos.
To build a company of people who define their brand, the co-founders focus on hiring people with high charisma and low arrogance. In other words, they hire people who are incredibly passionate and willing to act on their passion, but who are also able to own up to their mistakes and acknowledge what they don’t know. Every single person hired is intensely creative. The co-founders lead by example and are constantly looking to learn and innovate. ●
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CEO and Co-Founder
CEO Leigh Rawdon and CCO Emily Meyer co-founded Tea Collection in 2002 with a goal to create globally inspired children’s clothing. They raised some startup capital and were on their way. Over the next decade they focused on developing a built-to-last company, becoming profitable and self-funding its growth.
The duo expanded product assortment, launched an e-commerce site, developed a healthy catalog channel, nurtured relationships with boutique stores and built a partnership with Nordstrom.
While Tea is primarily an e-commerce business, they put significant focus on their distribution through independent retailers across the U.S. and Canada. Instead of a traditional wholesale arrangement, Rawdon and Meyer partner closely with the shopkeepers — sharing best practices, leveraging national advertising efforts, tapping into mentorship and educational opportunities.
But it’s not enough to only build partnerships. Rawdon and Meyer believe it’s just as important to stay current — and often ahead of the curve — on fashion trends for children. Tea’s design team travels to a different part of the world every season and then interprets their experience into a seasonal collection. The collection creates conversation, awareness and familiarity, opening the world up for the entire Tea community. And every Tea employee receives an international travel allowance to experience the world firsthand — making the collections part of an authentic experience. It is this authenticity that has helped Rawdon and Meyer create customer loyalty.
In 2014, Rawdon and Meyer’s early investors wanted an exit strategy. The two navigated a buy-out, becoming an ESOP, which enabled them to continue their mission-driven path by serving not just shareholders but also employees, vendors, customers and the community. As an employee-owned company, Tea continues its growth with 80 employees who serve 300 independent retailers, thousands of global factory workers and hundreds of thousands of happy, engaged customers. ●
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CEO and President
Lily Sarafan joined Home Care Assistance in 2005, shortly after founders Jim and Kathy Johnson started the concierge home care services firm for seniors. She was a recent graduate of Stanford University with plans to take a strategic one-year break to develop real-world entrepreneurial experience before attending law school.
It didn’t take long for Sarafan to be inspired by the Johnsons’ vision for senior care. And it didn’t take long for the Johnsons to see in Sarafan a young leader who could take their fledgling company, which at the time had 25 clients, to new heights.
Sarafan was named COO, decided to delay law school, and was tasked with scaling the company’s operations. She wrote its first operating manual and expanded the business into Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Sarafan also developed a hybrid expansion model — driving growth through a combination of corporate-owned and franchise locations, which provided flexibility while maintaining control of pace of profitable growth.
Over the next decade, Sarafan led Home Care Assistance’s operations to new heights, fostering growth to more than 120 locations across the U.S. and Canada. As a result, she was named CEO and president.
Today, Sarafan’s mission for the company is to change the way the world ages. She is driven to change public policy on home health care, as well as the conversation on aging and end-of-life in both the political and social arenas.
Part of Sarafan’s success is that she leads by example, using a holistic management approach where each department is fully integrated within the company’s operations and both employees and franchisees have opportunities to grow.
In 2015, she helped engineer an exit strategy for the founders, which allowed them to set their sights on retirement while the new strategic investor has provided a financial partner to help fuel the company’s next phase of growth. ●
CEO and President
Born in poverty in the Philippines, CEO and President Myla Ramos of SearchPros Solutions understands the sacrifices made by her parents and is determined to make the most of her opportunities.
During Christmas week, while working for a staffing company, all temporary employees discovered they wouldn’t receive their paychecks. Ramos, along with Heather Kocina and Rayna Pearson, paid the temps from their personal accounts to ensure a wonderful Christmas for all.
Not knowing how to break the news to their families, the three decided to grab drinks following the workday. That’s when they asked: “Why can’t we start a staffing company?”
The three founded SearchPros Solutions in a tiny rented suite in downtown Sacramento with three home equity loans, maxed-out credit cards and the support and guidance of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Sacramento District Office.
They had a singular dream — as the first college graduates in each of their families — to start and run a successful business of their own. For example, when the founders prospected for work each day, no one was allowed to leave without making a minimum of 200 cold calls.
Today, SearchPros is one of the fastest-growing staffing agencies in the U.S.
The founders have established a culture of good work ethic and a commitment to the community, while seeking to align duties according to the strengths of each employee, remain innovative and keep an open mind for opportunities.
With the success of SearchPros, Ramos bought her parents their first home.
She is uniquely positioned to view the business challenges from her client’s perspectives with her background and experience. ●
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CEO and President
Jes Pedersen’s leadership is inspired by his dedication to lead by example and create a culture to survive and thrive, regardless of who is leading. When Pedersen took over as CEO and president of Webcor Builders four years ago, he found a company run on a top-down autocracy with an executive team that was very resistant to change. Leveraging his project manager background, Pedersen inspires leadership from the bottom up and empowers each employee to make decisions and look for improvement.
The truth has always been more important to Pedersen than being right, and so he has emulated this value in order to better himself and encourage others to follow suit. Pedersen seeks to build trust through open and honest feedback not only for himself, but for the entire executive team at Webcor. He accomplishes this by a mantra he brought to management: “Attack the issue, not the person.” This mindset has paved the way for open and honest dialogue at the senior executive level. It takes the burden off of individuals and frees participants to address the problem at hand.
Pedersen inspires those around him by being genuine and practicing what he preaches. He seeks to integrate everyone into the shared vision by operating as a part of the team. The previous CEO’s office was a large corner room at the end of the hall overlooking Willie Mays Plaza, the opening gates for AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. One of Pedersen’s first acts as CEO, demonstrating the approachability he desired for the rest of management, was to turn the previous CEO’s office into a conference room and to relocate his office to a more central, easily accessible area.
Pedersen’s drive toward constant improvement is built upon challenging the status quo. Even as the company was doing well coming out of the Great Recession, Pedersen pushed back saying it could do better. ●
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CEO and President
When CEO and President Maury Blackman arrived at Accela more than a decade ago to lead sales and marketing efforts, the company was a fledgling startup with big aspirations for connecting citizens and government in a more relevant way.
A retired field artillery officer in the U.S. Army, he brought with him a unique understanding of the government and how it relates to the general citizenry. Blackman immediately recognized the key to success lay with Accela’s ability to restore trust and open communication channels between Accela’s clients and their respective clients — the American people.
He made significant investments in engineering, product development and user experience resources. They then designed, developed and delivered a unique suite of software solutions to help clients transform the way they did business — from faceless transactions to more direct engagement.
Accela’s resulting product, the Civic Platform, connects the public sector, citizens, partners and developers to more efficiently engage, interact and transact through mobile devices, social media and open data. It is based on the idea to meet citizens where they wanted to be met and allow government agencies to more readily adapt to changing needs.
Through Civic Platform, agencies across the governmental spectrum — from asset, land and legislative management to licensing, finance, environmental health and more — can provide better access to services and information online instead of making people wait in line at city hall.
Today, more than 2,200 governments license Accela’s software, including more than 50 percent of America’s largest cities.
Because of this, Blackman has grown the company from a small group of dedicated visionaries to an army of more than 700 employees — all of whom are passionate about the role government can play in society and the life of citizens when it is more accessible and user friendly. ●
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Datameer, led by self-taught developer CEO Stefan Groschupf, was originally a German company with a U.S. office. Groschupf, however, found German companies to be hesitant to use startups’ software platforms. So, he fired everyone, dissolved the German company, re-incorporated the company in the U.S., rehired everyone and moved Datameer to San Francisco to embrace the Silicon Valley startup spirit of innovation and creativity.
Groschupf and his management team work to make big data analytics available to everyone, believing it is key to addressing many of the world’s problems. While companies tend to build modules that present a twist on existing architecture, Datameer was part of the original disruption of the network that led to real change of the architecture and a diversity of uses.
The company has made its software available at no cost to the U.S. Women’s Olympic Cycling Team, which was allotted no budget for training. The team used personal fitness data to create customized training plans for the cyclists, which helped the team win the silver medal during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Management’s philosophy is all about participation and creativity. Employees are given free time to explore any project or idea that may benefit the company, and time to complete it, which has led to several projects and has accelerated the company’s innovation. Datameer’s pitch days allow individuals or groups to pitch ideas to the company leadership. While winners receive a stock option award, Groschupf finds this process forces employees to think about finances, logistics, how they would split the award and how to pitch their idea.
Big data is meaningless unless it can be analyzed and transformed into useful information. The person who understands data best can draw meaningful conclusions that help solve big problems. ●
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CEO and Founder
Clara Shih’s journey to become the CEO and founder of Hearsay Social is the epitome of the American dream.
She immigrated to the U.S. at age 4 and overcame cultural and language barriers to graduate at the top of her class at the Stanford School of Engineering. Within a decade, Shih created the world’s first social business application, authored two best-selling books on social media, was named one of Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs” and pioneered the transformative social media phenomenon, Hearsay.
The idea for Hearsay sparked when Shih worked at Google and Salesforce and noticed that sales personnel hated entering sales data. After the creation of her app Faceforce and her book “The Facebook Era,” she realized the transformative potential of social media business marketing and decided to become an entrepreneur.
Initially, Hearsay was a marketing platform for a variety of verticals, but Shih found Hearsay needed to focus.
Shih eventually decided to specialize in insurance, wealth and asset management and mortgage lending. However, of all the verticals Hearsay could pursue, these were the most conservative and highly regulated industries. This unwittingly proved to be the key to Hearsay’s success.
Sales reps in the financial services industry often were not compliant with regulations. With Hearsay’s platform, compliance and oversight is made simple with preapproval workflows, real-time alerts, supervision and approval trails and infraction resolution — all managed from a central supervision dashboard.
With the help of her best friend Steve Garrity, Shih has developed a diverse core management team hailing from all parts of the world. She retains top management by consistently giving people support and seeking out nontraditional candidates based on key qualities.
Today more than 130 financial service firms benefit from Hearsay’s technology and more than 150,000 advisers use Hearsay to serve their clients. ●
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When Dennis Yang first sat down with Udemy’s founder Eren Bali, he was caught off guard by Bali’s passion to learn as Bali took out a yellow legal pad and proceeded to pepper Yang with rapid-fire “How do I do X?” questions. Coming from a job where Yang had been “putting apps on phones,” Bali’s humble, but voracious desire to learn and corresponding company vision was something that Yang found refreshing and strongly identified with. When offered the chance to join Udemy as president and COO in 2012, he did so without hesitation. When Bali stepped down in April 2014, Yang took over as Udemy’s CEO.
Udemy’s mission is to help people build the life they want through learning. Content is community created and priced, though heavily curated. Similar to app stores and other online marketplaces, Udemy receives a portion of the proceeds from all sales made through the platform.
Udemy’s category managers scour the available courses, soliciting additional material from teachers in areas where new content is needed due to changing markets and review user search queries to identify emerging needs. Currently, about half of Udemy’s revenue comes from within the U.S. and the remainder from around the world.
The community-based nature of Udemy’s educational offerings is a massive advantage. While competitors must attempt to anticipate trends and create content to match, Udemy has no need to do so, with its community able to provide whatever content is demanded in a self-sustaining fashion. Teachers provide informative and engaging content in order to make sales, ensuring that courses available through Udemy are always “consumer-grade.” Furthermore, given the online delivery system, content is always available and always in stock anywhere with internet access. ●
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CEO and President
Groupware Technology, Inc.
Prior to his acquisition of Groupware Technology, Inc., Mike Thompson worked his way up from account manager to executive vice president at other local technology resellers. As the CEO and president of Groupware, Thompson’s considerable experience in the technology reseller industry has contributed to his leadership style and his impact on the culture of Groupware.
While the recession wreaked havoc on the IT industry and competitors implemented deep spending cuts, Thompson and his partners adamantly announced that Groupware “refused to participate” in the recession. Instead of following the lead of his competitors, Thompson chose to invest in new business opportunities and organized Groupware as a customer-focused company that is capable of staying ahead of industry trends and competing fiercely with other value-added resellers.
Since the acquisition of Groupware in 2005, Thompson has worked to develop a team dedicated to helping customers optimize their data center infrastructures, evaluate and implement new technologies and provide a road map toward cloud-centric infrastructure models.
It is important to Thompson to keep the entrepreneurial spirit strong at Groupware, where he empowers employees across all departments to develop and execute new solutions to customer requests. Thompson believes that by establishing the company’s vision, communicating the direction effectively and keeping their culture intact, Groupware will see continued growth and expansion into new and exciting markets.
Thompson and his team are proud that few employees have left the company. Groupware is committed to quality customer service, but also to taking care of its employees. Thompson and his leadership team have developed a culture of listening, empowering, encouraging the pursuit of excellence, remembering to have fun, leading with humility and giving back to their communities. With an outstanding commitment to customer service, the company operates with the idea that customers define employee value, not employees. ●
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CEO and President
When CEO and President Mark Rabe joined Sojern in 2011, it was a 40-person team based in Omaha, Nebraska, focusing on customized boarding passes. With the long-term outlook projecting to decline as these passes moved to mobile devices, Rabe had a vision to utilize the business’s core customer relationships to create a sophisticated database of traveler’s profiles to directly target ads.
While Sojern has experienced tremendous growth and is positioned to disrupt the travel booking industry, the company has faced challenges to get to where it is today.
In 2014, with dropping revenue from their core boarding pass business and margins on their new business line relatively low due to lack of scale, Sojern needed a cash infusion. After getting turned down by a majority of venture capital investors, Rabe finally secured funding.
The day before the cash was received, however, Sojern’s largest customer at the time declared it would not be renewing its contract. Because of the trust that the venture capital firm had in the management team and future prospects of Sojern, it followed through with the investment as initially negotiated.
Today, Sojern continues to develop innovative products. It is currently working to predict future demand by date for specific properties to allow more advanced pricing for hotels to optimize profitability. In addition, the company seeks to accurately link customers’ personal computers and handheld devices. This would ensure that personal profiles on the platform are built off individuals, not devices.
Rabe was instrumental in transforming Sojern from a small company in the Silicon Prairie into a well-respected company in the Silicon Valley with more than 200 employees in six offices around the world. He did this by building a passionate team that shared his vision to create value through extracting targeted data maps of individual consumers on a large scale. ●
Founder, Executive Chairman and Chief Strategist
Jyoti Bansal borrowed $200 from his father at age 22 and moved to Silicon Valley with a vision of combining science and technology to make a positive impact on the world.
Bansal, founder, executive chairman and chief strategist at AppDynamics, saw a new trend taking shape as businesses began to digitally transform themselves: an oncoming massive shift in how technology would need to adapt to manage daily business operations.
He conceived an innovative platform to enable organizations to instrument and monitor each line of software code they built and use the data to derive insights into operational performance, user experience and ultimately the overall business impact of the applications. In 2008. AppDynamics was born.
Today, AppDynamics is a 1,000-person strong company that provides 1,750 customers worldwide with cloud-based solutions to monitor and analyze their applications and streamline performance. Bansal’s company serves an impressive list of customers such as Netflix, HBO and Kraft, providing solutions that allow them to deliver world-class service to their customers.
As the company grew, Bansal recognized the need to ensure AppDynamics was agile and able to continually innovate and cause market disruption. He organized the product and engineering teams into nine innovation teams comprised of no more than 30 people each. Each innovation team operates as a startup within the company, reporting on revenue, customers and progress independently. This model prevents logjams that can inhibit product development and stifle innovation.
Bansal also implemented a dynamic partner reseller program that fosters company growth through protecting resellers’ profits by guaranteeing a margin, no matter the sale price to the end user.
Combined, his operational innovation and sales plan have led AppDynamics to five straight years of hypergrowth and captured the attention of national media. ●
Founder and Chairman
As the founder and chairman of Adaptive Insights, Rob Hull demonstrates true leadership to guide his organization through challenges and toward a visionary future. Hull never doubted his instinct and vision and believed that creating a financial management solution that was easy to use, easy to deploy and eliminated the need for IT would empower businesses to understand performance and drive insight. Through nine months of unfunded research, managing expenses through bridge loans, taking no salary and keeping up after each venture capital turndown, he powered through all these challenges to make his vision happen.
As the company grows, Hull always has the wisdom to identify the right leader at the right time to guide the organization through every stage of its evolution. Most recently he brought on CEO Tom Bogan, a seasoned enterprise software executive and former chairman of the board at Citrix who had the vision to build an executive team for a large company. Hull has genuine appreciation for the value each member has brought to the team and works to ensure that the organization never strays away from its core culture of innovation and collaboration.
Management has a strong, even maniacal focus on customer satisfaction and trust building. Customer success and partner success are the most mentioned in their business philosophy and strategy. The company has never stopped investing in understanding customer needs and addressing the issues that top their minds.
Management embraces continual experiments, iterating on what works and integrating lessons learned in the development of products. Hull believes that the requirement for executives to lead the company will change as the company grows. It will be critical to see the changing of phases the company endures and identify the right team to guide the company through each phase, and to proactively shape the executive team to respond to future growth. ●
Once he was appointed CEO of Quantenna in 2011, Sam Heidari began refocusing the company’s efforts. Working in the area of ultrahigh performance Wi-Fi semiconductor and system software solutions, its competitors have significant financial and R&D resources. Heidari had to figure out how to grow the business and improve the technology. He faced the obstacle of proving the concept and set his sights on building the technology that would provide the best Wi-Fi performance and could compete against wired technology.
Quantenna provides a turnkey wireless solution for Wi-Fi technology. Heidari understood the market demand and brought Quantenna’s innovation to satisfy the increasing demand of Wi-Fi technology.
When he became the CEO of Quantenna, Heidari went after a niche market with its best technology. When the company released its initial product, it competed with wired technology, an indication that wireless could have the same performance as wired.
While other companies were focusing on several solutions, Heidari focused on creating the technology that served the niche market, and then created products and technology around it.
Quantenna also differentiates itself in the way its employees interact with customers and vendors. It partners with customers and vendors rather than dictate what products should be purchased, which has been a key in growing the business.
Heidari is a firm believer in treating employees as owners, which gives them the shared responsibility of winning in the market. He challenges the team intellectually, which provides an environment in which an individual’s talent can flourish. Though it has received numerous awards and recognitions, Quantenna remains grounded as it works to provide the best technology in the market. With the leadership of Heidari, the team continues to improve products and find the innovation to provide the solution demanded by the market. ●