Bravo! Entrepreneur featured speaker: Even after topping Inc. 5000, entrepreneurship doesn’t get any easier

Brad Hollister, founder of SwanLeap.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Madison-based logistics technology startup SwanLeap is the fastest-growing company in America, with 90 employees and a new headquarters double the size of its previous office.

Managing a larger company is still just as difficult, but now with attorneys, joked Brad Hollister, founder and chief executive officer of SwanLeap, which was No. 1 on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in the country with three-year growth of 75,000%.

“It’s not any easier than it was with two employees and no money. It’s the same,”
Hollister said.

As a startup with an entrepreneurial mindset, SwanLeap doesn’t always have internal processes in place and things can get a bit chaotic, he said. But it has been working this year to shore up external processes with clients, as well as internal systems such as in-house human resources.

“We’re running so fast that we really couldn’t focus on culture,” he said.

Hollister will reveal his tenets of success as the keynote speaker at the 2019 Bravo! Entrepreneur & I.Q. Awards at BizTimes Media’s BizExpo, a daylong conference which will be held at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino on May 30. The awards will honor 21 of Milwaukee’s top entrepreneurs and innovators.

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, Hollister said.

Founded as ClearView Audit LLC by Hollister and Jason Swanson from his Elkhorn basement in 2013, SwanLeap is quickly approaching $400 million in revenue. It has differentiated itself in the logistics technology space with practices such as lightning integration, Hollister said.

“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,” he said. “It’s exciting because it really drastically changes the industry.”

Topping the Inc. 5000 list was exciting for the company, but it also brought unexpected challenges, such as top employees being recruited away, Hollister said.

“Employees got visibility into our finances a little bit through the announcement and then they started to draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions based on the glimpse that they had access to,” he said. “It was a challenging time.”

SwanLeap has also been approached by many potential partners, and it can be overwhelming to find time to figure out which of them would be a fit, Hollister said.

“The positive aspect is the market validation. Breaking into the enterprise software space is a very difficult thing to do,” he said.

Now at about 90 employees, 50 of whom are in Madison, SwanLeap plans to hire about 20 developers in the near future to meet demand. To accommodate its growth, the company this spring was finishing renovations to double its office space to 20,000 square feet.

Hollister previously invested $200,000 in a logistics startup that failed. This one is different, he said, because he is more focused on the ease of integration and ease of use for the customer.

“I had to stop; I had to bail; I had to pull the rip cord. But the rip cord was actually our current business,” he said. “It took getting to that failure to find what our path really was.”

SwanLeap has also been cautious to grow by hiring to revenue and spending only on revenue, rather than taking on capital and potentially making irresponsible decisions, Hollister said. It did take on a small amount of capital from former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Despite the challenges, Hollister plans to apply for the Inc. 5000 again this year. And SwanLeap expects to continue its international expansion and do something rare in its industry: rewrite its code from scratch.

Startups have growing pains, and failure will happen, but it’s important to learn to trust your employees to do what you hired them for, Hollister said.

“Whatever you did last month is not sacred. Just start over,” he said.

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