Brad Hollister has never dreamed small about his Madison logistics technology startup SwanLeap. But even he is amazed by the company’s meteoric rise to the top of the 2018 Inc. 5000 list, which is being released today.
The annual list by Inc. magazine ranks the fastest-growing private companies in America, calculated 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. The top 500 are featured in the September issue of the magazine.
When Hollister and co-founder Jason Swanson started working on the new company, originally called ClearView Audit LLC, out of his Elkhart Lake basement in 2013, he had a goal posted on the wall: get to 100,000 users and SwanLeap would become a billion-dollar company.
“As we were programming, we knew that we were doing something extraordinary,” he said.
While it hasn’t reached $1 billion yet, Hollister is projecting $400 million in 2018 revenue, which puts its three-year growth rate at more than 75,000 percent. SwanLeap has grown to 80 employees, 50 of whom are based in Madison.
And now it’s been ranked by Inc. as the fastest-growing private company in America.
“We’ve developed a product, a solution really, that every company in the world needs, and that’s artificial intelligence and visibility in shipping,” he said. “And the current legacy providers really don’t have that ability to support the needs of the market.”
Bringing AI and real-time analytics to the logistics sector has resulted in huge cost savings for SwanLeap customers, which has driven heavy demand for its platform.
“Jim Rogan was our first customer and for a 34-store company, (Racine-based) Rogan’s Shoes is incredibly advanced and they needed the ability to automatically decide how to ship orders,” Hollister said. “The result of our service … was a 50 percent reduction in shipping costs.”
On average, SwanLeap’s software allows companies to save 27.6 percent on shipping costs.
Other customers include Madison dehumidifier and HVAC system manufacturer Aprilaire, Madison appliance manufacturer Subzero Group Inc. and Elgin, Illinois-based Fisher nuts producer John B. Sanfilippo and Son Inc.
Now based out of a 10,000-square-foot Madison office, SwanLeap has largely been self-funded by the founders, with former Gov. Tommy Thompson providing some outside investment.
Hollister, 40, 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. With the advent of the cloud, artificial intelligence and other emerging technology, he was able to create a platform that was far more automated than some legacy systems, he said.
“We saw an opportunity in the market that wasn’t being filled,” Hollister said. “We heard Rogan’s Shoes loud and clear; we knew exactly what they wanted.”
SwanLeap was first listed on the Inc. 5000 in 2017, when it was ranked at No. 55. Its 2016 revenue was $8.4 million, and as of 2017 its three-year growth rate was 5,779 percent. In 2017, SwanLeap had 37 employees.
While he had high hopes for the No. 1 slot on this year’s Inc. list and was relieved when SwanLeap achieved it, Hollister said he also felt validation from the accomplishment. He previously started and then abandoned a startup that sold freight space in trucks—but not until after he had invested $200,000 of his own money.
“It’s been a rainbow of emotion, as you can imagine,” Hollister said. “It’s also a little bit of validity, because there was a period of two years there without income. I had created a solution that no one wanted and I was broke with two kids and burned through all my savings and what do you do.”
With SwanLeap, unlike the last venture, he sees huge growth potential because it solves customers' most challenging problems.
“It’s really been a great story and we haven’t really even started our business yet,” Hollister said. “Honestly, we have no salespeople.”