Sami El-Saden’s big business moment came in 2001 when he was asked to run Ignite USA LLC, a pre-revenue industrial design services company loaded with promise but fraught with risk.
When El-Saden took over as president and CEO, Ignite had 20 employees, little to no revenue and was burning more than $150,000 of cash per month, funded by the company’s founders.
With only an assurance from the founders that they would continue to fund the company, El-Saden began to build the relationships that would form the foundation for Ignite’s future success. El-Saden cultivated a relationship with Starbucks that gave Ignite the opportunity to create and supply new innovative thermal mugs to the large coffee retailer, successfully securing the manufacturing bid against Starbucks’ entire existing supplier base.
But growth didn’t come without bumps in the road. When Ignite’s founders ran out of money in 2002, El-Saden had to reduce the head count from 20 to four, suspend compensation for those who remained and convince the company’s landlord to defer rent for several months, all the while waiting for the first Starbucks invoice to arrive. Ignite shipped on time, Starbucks paid on time, and the company has not only survived but thrived ever since.
Seeking to branch out from the Starbucks account, El-Saden helped spur the development of a new line of drinkware, called Contigo, which was launched at Target in 2005. At the same time, El-Saden abandoned the original service strategy of the company in favor of becoming a globally branded housewares company.
It has taken some risks and venturing into the unknown, but today Ignite has developed as a housewares brand. The revenue of the Contigo brand grew 71 percent in 2008 and 103 percent in ’09, all in spite of the global economic downturn.
How to reach: Ignite USA LLC, (312) 432-6223 or www.gocontigo.com