Last updated on August 14th, 2019 at 10:20 am
In August 2018, Madison-based logistics technology startup SwanLeap was named the fastest-growing private company in America, topping the Inc. 5000 with three-year growth of 75,000% and almost $400 million in 2018 revenue.
The annual list by Inc. magazine creates its ranking based on percentage revenue growth from 2014 to 2018 for companies with greater than $100,000 in 2014 revenue and greater than $2 million in 2017 revenue.
Eight months later, chief executive officer Brad Hollister is dealing with growing pains as the six-year-old company continues to evolve. But he plans to apply for the Inc. 5000 again this year.
In November, SwanLeap was also No. 1 on Deloitte’s 2018 North America Fast 500 based on similar growth metrics.
How did SwanLeap do it?
Hollister pointed to the cost savings SwanLeap provides its customers. On average, SwanLeap’s software allows companies to save 27.6 percent on shipping costs.
In addition, SwanLeap has differentiated itself with its lightning integration format, he said, which sidesteps the traditional evaluation process that entails a request for information and then a request for proposals. Instead, the company encourages logistics firms to implement its software and then find gaps in their systems where assistance is needed.
“What we’re looking at here is doing a one-day integration of an entire business system that normally can take up to a year or more with our competitors,” Hollister said. “It’s exciting because it really drastically changes the industry.”
Hollister previously worked as a freight broker and for a publicly-traded trucking company, and he saw that some of the existing logistics technology was antiquated.
SwanLeap’s platform uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide transportation management, shipping technology, and freight and parcel auditing. Its goal is to streamline the supply chain using a technology that was not previously harnessed in logistics, he said.
When companies implement SwanLeap’s platform, they are able to gather data needed to make better decisions on finances and operations, Hollister said.
Hollister and Jason Swanson founded SwanLeap, originally called ClearView Audit LLC, in Hollister’s Elkhart Lake basement in 2013.
The idea for SwanLeap came out of a previous startup, which failed, but led to the current company. Hollister ended up renegotiating the terms of a contract for Racine-based Rogan’s Shoes to help them save money on shipping, and it snowballed from there.
“The idea is just a series of very important improvements on a bunch of other pieces,” Hollister said. “We consolidated a lot of pieces and we brought them into one platform, but we also made the platform way better than what’s out there.”
The business has thrived, he said, because SwanLeap thought about the product from the customer’s perspective.
“We actually continued to grow by hiring to revenue and spending only to our revenue,” he said. “We’re not looking to take on capital and make these, what I call, irresponsible decisions.”
And they never set small goals. On the wall of that basement, they had a goal: get to 100,000 users and become a billion-dollar company.
“The goal for the company this year is continuing with international expansion,” Hollister said, with SwanLeap on the cusp of bringing on its first Latin American and European customers.
“We’re also doing something that is pretty unprecedented in our industry, and that is that we’re completely rewriting the code from scratch,” he said, and making it more open.
Since it has gained more prominence from the Inc. 5000, SwanLeap has been able to gain more market validation in the enterprise software space. And it’s learned it needs to shore up its processes as it scales for growth.
But Hollister has found running a startup is just as challenging when you get bigger.
“It’s not any easier than it was with two employees and no money. It’s the same,” he said.