Earlier this month, we checked-in with a number of the CEOs/founders of Maine’s fastest growing companies about the upcoming year. We wanted to get their perspective on both the year that closed and the one that was just starting. We asked them two questions: (1) what have you learned from 2014; and (2) what are you looking forward to in 2015?
They have some very interesting answers to these questions. These are the folks growing companies and adding jobs in Maine. The companies are from all sorts of industries: tech, brewing, IT, app creators, and sports apparel. If you have aspirations for growing your company, or you want to start a fast growing company, there are some great nuggets in here for you. If you want to work in, work with, or want to support the growth of more of these companies, there’s something in here for you too.
I’m confident that 2015 is going to be an awesome year for Maine. With so many great companies and great events in store to strengthen the community, it’s inevitable. There’s a movement starting in Maine. One where we are building our economy together as individuals and not waiting for anyone to tell us how to do it. A movement about the positive opportunities of the future, not the negative issues of the past. And with the news that Popular Mechanics ranked Portland the #4 place to start a startup in the country, others are starting to take notice too. If you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty fired up for 2015.
For now, enjoy these tidbits from these great companies.
Bob Neveau, President, Certify
“This past year (2014) was a great year for growth at Certify. We added approximately 30 employees here in Maine, and I was constantly reminded in all the interviews how talented and diverse our workforce. We consistently are able to attract top talent for our company while also finding great candidates for both entry level and mid-level management positions. What I find truly gratifying is the hard work ethic of my fellow Mainers! With every new year, we are all inspired to make improvements, both personal and work related. And running your business is no different. Here at Certify, we continue to expand our number of employees and customers, and while doing so, I am asking the question “are we expanding efficiently?
With the start of 2015, we are undertaking a number of initiatives to further automate our business and streamline best practices, making our employee’s lives easier and efficient. A few examples include:
– Online performance appraisals. After years of manual word docs and spread sheets, we have finally moved to an online performance management system. It makes it easy and quick for both employees and managers to provide valuable performance review data while also discussing goals and objectives for 2015 and beyond.
– Expanded paid time off / floating holidays. It’s important to provide service to our customers (currently across North America and 18 countries) but it is equally important to give employees paid time off to recreate and recharge. By instituting a floating holiday program, in addition to our paid time off plan, we are allowing employees even more freedom to take time off when needed.
– Managing expense is critical. As providers of expense management software, we recognize the need to help our clients reduce travel and expense related costs. And when you see the same impact on your own business, it really drives home the idea that “good policies result in lower costs.” Our expanded sales team members travel frequently, and they need to know the company’s expectations around travel and entertainment costs. Also, helping the employee track these costs and automate their expense report really does result in more efficiencies, costs savings and ultimately an increase in employee happiness.”
Jason Cianchette, Founder and CEO, Huzzapp
“I am hoping that Portland can have a solid exit in 2015. Most likely from Certify, CashStar or Vets First Choice. I think that would really help add momentum to the burgeoning startup scene here. I also hope that through Startup & Create Week and other events that people in Portland can see the potential Portland has for a startup community.”
Heather Sanborn, Co-Owner & Dir. of Business Operations, Rising Tide Brewing Company
“2014 was the year that put Maine on the map as one of the premier destinations for beer tourism. We now have at least 33 brewery tasting rooms and at least 23 brew pubs in the state. When I first visited San Diego several years ago and saw the tasting room culture there — with food trucks outside and a packed house full of tourists inside each brewery in the middle of the afternoon — I hoped we could develop a similar culture here. I thought it would take a many years, but instead we have largely accomplished it in less than two years, since a crucial law change that made it possible to operate a tasting room as a viable business. I am excited to see this culture continue to develop and attract even more visitors (and their dollars) to our state in 2015.”
Kerem Durdag, CEO, Biovation LLC
“Everyone should throw out all the books, articles, clippings, bookmarks, post-its, scribbles, notes about all the chit chats, youtube videos, other videos, pontifications, musings, webinars, and just read this book. And after reading the book, run to MCED and start taking the classes.”
Jean Hoffman, President and CEO, Putney, Inc.
“Doubling revenues and achieving profitability!”
Brian Rahill, Co-Founder, CourseStorm
“Lessons learned: I’ve learned that there are lots of ways to make a product/company successful. There isn’t a single “right path” to success and there are infinite ways to iterate on the product and business model until you find something that works. What’s important is to keep moving. I learned to continue to make small bets and experiment quickly to hone in on promising paths quickly. The faster I’ve been able to try new things, the more progress I’ve made. Last year, I was continually reminded that there are smart people who have run into similar problems before me. I have been fortunate to connect with people who have already blazed a trail. They have served as guides to help me get unstuck and avoid the same mistakes they made. Staying connected and asking for help has always gotten me further, more quickly, than struggling myself.
For 2015, I am looking forward to continuing to grow our startup, CourseStorm. We grew tremendously last year and with the help of some great mentors and the right moves, I’m confident we will do it again. I am also excited to give back to the community of entrepreneurs and to serve as a guide for others. I have learned and continue to learn so much from those ahead of me, and I’d love to share that same insight with anyone that needs help.”
Rick Sales, President, Abierto Networks
“I’m grateful for a wonderful year in 2014. We grew 75% and I feel like we done much to get our market, product and talent strategies in place. Talent is a big part of it for Abierto. Having great people matters so much during start up and growth. I find it is an investment that most people don’t appreciate enough. It can be hard for a small company to find great people in Maine, but in my experience they are there. It has to be the CEO’s mission to find both a technical fit and a really well rounded person who will be capabile of thriving in a chaotic and risk-filled environment like a start up. Someone who is personally mature and committed to results and success. Our dedication to this process is in large part what has created our success. I’m also grateful for the rich and dynamic ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs here in Maine. We might not be NY or Silicon Valley, but there are many smart people here who are interested in both returns, but also the betterment of the state and local communities. Maine investors and entrepreneurs have smarts and passion.
2015 Wishes: I believe in the saying: ‘As life gets more complex, our wishes get more simple’. So, For this year, I wish that Abierto might benefit from good timing. There are so many external factors that we can’t control in our market (Abierto sells digital solutions for convenience stores) – the price of gas, requirements from other system providers, etc. We’ll continue to execute our playbook, but we can always benefit from timing.”
Kristen Gwinn-Becker, PhD, CEO, History IT
“2014 was a year of exponential growth for HistoryIT. We learned a lot about managing for scale, which was super fun and challenging. 2014 was about growing big, vastly expanding our size and national brand.
2015 will be about growing smart. We plan to put a lot of energy into building strategic partnerships, enhancing our software offerings, and reaching into new markets with our range of digital archive services.”
Mike St. Pierre, Founder/CEO/Design, Hyperlite Moutain Gear
“2014 was a great year for Hyperlite Mountain Gear. After five years of relentless focus we’ve been able to establish a solid footing with revenue that allowed us to close a significant round of funding. We are investing this capital into r+d, marketing and branding because we believe Hyperlite is a brand that can last 50+ years and be one of the best places to work in Maine.
We’ve learned a great deal about production over the past year. It has been great to establish a clean, organized shop that uses modern materials and textile manufacturing practices in an old historic mill in Biddeford, Maine. I’ve also learned that it is important to never give up. We’ve grown slowly and deliberately using a small, committed staff. This means we’ve relied upon consultants along the way to fill gaps for us. We have very specific needs so often it has taken us 4 or 5 consultants to find the right match. I’ve learned not to settle – to keep looking until you find the right fit. What is surprising to me is often I find the right fit back here in Maine – but only through a referral from someone outside of the state.
For 2015? Well, given our recent round, we are able to invest in the areas we’ve needed, to bring our early stage employees benefits like health care. Now we are on the look out for management level employees. In 2015, we are excited to invest in keeping up with demand.”
Material for this post was gathered in collaboration with Betsy Peters, Entrepreneur-In-Residence at the Maine Technology Institute. This material has been cross-posted on Startup Portland.