By: Scott Nishimura1
Fort Worth Inc.’s Fastest-Growing Companies 2018, the magazine’s inaugural class of companies, ranked by three-year revenue growth, cuts a broad swath through local industry, from health care to energy.
Companies were eligible to complete if they’re for-profit; generated revenue by March 31, 2014; had at least $50,000 in 2014 revenue and completed or billed at least $1.5 million in 2017 revenue; and are based in Greater Fort Worth, including several surrounding counties; or their audited, provided financials are based on the performance of a subsidiary in the area. The magazine disclosed the ranking Jan. 10 in a reception at the Norris Conference Center in downtown Fort Worth.
Mike Williams was 14 when his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and watched as she regressed. “Simple things we all take for granted, I saw her having difficulty doing,” he says. “It was tough to see. Early on, I developed an appreciation for what people go through. I knew I was always going to be involved in health care.” Early on in his career, Williams worked for companies that sold traditional medical devices, including ones for electrotherapy. “That opened my eyes to entrepreneurship.” Still, at that time, “the devices were difficult to get your hands on, there was a lot of red-tape, prescription-only. They weren’t affordable at all.” In 2009, Williams launched his company selling personal health records software. The software became obsolete. Williams noticed the FDA had been changing regulations for certain over-the-counter electrotherapy products. And in 2014, Williams launched iReliev under Excel. “It was just an opportunity.” Its first product was a medical-grade device that blocks pain receptors, sold through retailers such as Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart. iReliev today sells numerous over-the-counter, FDA-approved pain relief devices, which the company produces through a contract manufacturer in Taiwan, and sales have surged. Williams brought all of his investors from the original venture into the new one, first as debtholders and today as equity holders. The company has nine employees. Williams says he expects to expand into topicals in the future.
Mortgage Financial Services got its start in 2001 in Louisiana, founded by Rick Priest. In 2015, first cousin Brad Sullivan created the company’s Texas branch, based in Flower Mound. Today, the two run the company, which prides itself on a culture where members of families work alongside each other and loyalty results. The company’s also invested heavily in technology, which helps it recruit groups of new loan officers. “We’re just very quick to investigate new avenues and follow up,” Pamella Sullivan (not related to Brad), a senior loan officer, says. MFS uses advertising on sports radio to build its customer base. “It’s been very exciting to see it grow,” Sullivan says.
Bill Baker and Danny Gilbert started Nextlink in Parker County in 2012. Gilbert died the same year, and Baker today is majority owner and CEO. The company, which works rural and semi-suburban markets and has been focused on the western side of the Fort Worth-Dallas area, recently landed a $281 million Federal Communications Commission contract to dramatically expand rural internet access across six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa. “We’re looking forward to a very robust growth,” Baker says. The company has six years to meet its obligations under the contract. “I intend to meet our obligations in three years.” The company has accomplished its growth internally, with no acquisitions, Baker says. Nextlink has 220 employees today and expects to have 300 by the end of 2019, Baker says. Nextlink has been able to finance its growth primarily with capital that Baker put into the company, and debt financing provided by Texas Capital Bank, and hasn’t had to raise money, he says. “We’re not in any fundraising mode.” Growth expectations: “Probably over the next three years, we’ll be growing into one of the largest rural ISPs in the nation. That’s the tagline for the future.”
Chris Powers, Jr., and his Fort Worth development company, Fort Capital, are remaking a piece of West Fort Worth fronting the Trinity River into a community with outdoor amenities, indoor entertainment, restaurants, boutique office spaces and living choices ranging from apartments to luxury waterfront homes. The River District today has more than 700 residences, 10 businesses and more than 10 retailers and restaurants so far. Powers, with help from chief operating officer Jason Baxter, a former David Weekley Homes executive, has been focusing on developing Fort Capital’s culture as the company continues to grow. In 2014, Fort Capital had six employees. Today, it has 19. “Focusing on our people has been the No. 1 factor impacting our growth,” Powers says. “We believe that our people come first, always. Not in a self-serving, arrogant manner, but more from the belief that if our people are at their best, what we can deliver to the market is our best. The market likes companies that are at their best. We have focused highly on our culture and the process by which we develop our team. We’ve also created a much more stringent hiring process that makes sure we hire people that share our values and purpose.”
Koddi’s growth has been on a sharp upward trajectory since George Popstefanov and Nicholas Ward founded the cloud-based marketing technology company in 2013 as a sister to Popstefanov’s PMG Worldwide. Koddi’s executives – Ward is president and leads the company – attribute the growth to focusing on its people and transparency; building a high level of technical competency across the staff; investments in engineering and automation; staying in front of technical advertising trends; strong partnerships with global brands; and high standards for service delivery and accountability. Koddi’s spent a lot of time defining its culture as the company grows. Ward subscribes to the business rule of “3 and 10,” in which things break at multiples of three and powers of 10. Through an acquisition early in 2018, Koddi grew overnight to 60 employees from 30. At year’s end, it had 101, across all offices in Fort Worth, Austin, New York, Ann Arbor and Dusseldorf. “When it was 15 people in an office, we could do culture by accident,” Ward told Fort Worth Inc. in the fall. Not as easy at 100.
Benson Varghese was a prosecutor when he decided to launch a small criminal defense firm in 2014, using a $9,000 loan from an uncle. “You hope the police and the prosecutors always wear the white hat,” he says. “Sometimes, they don’t. In order for the system to work, it’s important to have people on both sides who are good.” Varghese began writing content – free information – for the firm’s website and estimates he’s produced hundreds of pages on various offenses and how the courts work. “I really tried to get into the mindset of someone who’s looking for help. In this area, it was unique to give out free information to people. Maybe one out of 100 people called me.” The firm, headed by Varghese and law partner and wife Anna Summersett, has moved from a small office to Fort Worth’s City Place downtown. Its roster of 10 lawyers includes several former prosecutors. With the criminal business steady, the firm has branched into family law, with the father-daughter team of Steve Bankhead and Deborah Bankhead. Steve Bankhead, a former prosecutor, brings an unusual advantage to family law of trial experience, Varghese says. “Often, issues that arise in family law have underlying aspects in criminal court.” The firm sees family law as holding significant growth opportunity, Varghese says. “It’s hard for me to imagine our [criminal] caseload is going to grow to such a point that we have to bring in new attorneys.”
Trinity Commercial incorporated in early 2012 with one job and quickly grew a niche of work inside airports, including restaurant, retail, office and light industrial. “The great thing about the airport is you can pursue all those market segments within the airport,” owner Richard Gartner says. The company, which last year rebranded from its original Trinity TransCon, has moved to diversify beyond airports and the strict requirements the business has of contractors. “At any of the private market projects, you can drive up, drop your tools and start working. It’s not like that at airports.” For one, work inside terminals of airports like DFW, where Trinity does most of its work, must be done overnight. Today, 80 to 85 percent of the business is related to airports, Gartner says. The airport work requires a high level of service that Trinity can bring to private market projects, Gartner says. “Where [airport work] is paying off for us is a level of sophistication and professionalism we can bring to the private market.” Trinity has 22 employees, almost all at DFW Airport. It has three in Austin. Trinity is moving into larger projects. “We had to cut our teeth on entry projects,” Gartner says. Like other fast-growing companies, Trinity has spent time honing core values that include authentic care about its people, spirit, fearless and stewardship. “We have to keep the culture consistent.”
Debbie Paris started StraCon Services Group in 2008 with a $78,000-a-year contract. “It was just me,” she says. Today, the company has 125 employees. Paris was member of the team that developed the Marine Aviation Training Transformation Initiative, which established the V-22 tiltrotor program as prototype for development of a system that transformed Marine Aviation training. The system increased ground-based training to more than 50 percent of training from 5 percent, and it saved $1.6 billion in V-22 costs, because the aircraft was no longer required to fulfill a training role. StraCon provides program management, training systems products, financial management, instructional system design, data management, courseware development, engineering, logistics, foreign military sales support and other technical services to the U.S. Department of Defense. Paris is 51 percent owner; her husband Ken Fancher is 39 percent partner. “Next year could be a good one for us,” Paris says. “We could certainly double in size with bodies and revenue.”
Rogers Healy, a Dallas native, started his own residential real estate firm in 2007 after working for other agencies. Healy, whose clients include North Texas celebrities, got interested in real estate while in college at SMU, helping students find places to live. The agency likes to say it follows an untraditional path. “It is always rewarding helping friends find new places to live,” he says. “I love being an ambassador for Dallas; it is a personal thrill for me. It was a natural fit to enter the world of real estate. I haven’t looked back since.” In 2009, Healy was named one of the Top 30 Realtors under the age of 30 in the country by Realtor magazine. In the same year, he was invited to serve on the National Association of Realtor’s YPN Advisory Board and was named a finalist for NAR’s Pioneer Award. “Being able to mentor and manage, based on what I truly love about real estate, has been the biggest thrill of being a business owner,” he says. “Our success as a company has been attributed to working among people I have the utmost respect and admiration for.”
Thrive Internet Marketing likes to say “Better Never Stops.” “We’ve had to get really serious about that this year,” Matt Bowman, CEO of the digital marketing firm, says. Revenue has grown 110 percent in the last 12 months. At mid-2018, the company launched RIZE Reviews, a new service that allows businesses to manage reviews and online reputation. “Most businesses don’t have a proactive plan,” Bowman says. “They just let reviews happen. They might remember to ask a client to leave a review. Without a plan, you leave yourself vulnerable to bad reviews.” With the new service, Thrive focuses on home services, medical, franchises, legal and small businesses. Thrive sets up a system that clients can use to seek internet reviews — it connects to platforms such as Google, Facebook and Yelp — from customers by email, text, website link and on electronic invoices. “You can put that URL anywhere,” Bowman says. Clients can play up the best reviews on their own site, but the system doesn’t allow clients to manage how reviews appear on Google, for one. Thrive had 83 employees in mid-December, up from 35 in October 2017. Most of its 10 salespeople work remotely. Like the other companies among our Fastest-Growing, Thrive spends a fair amount of time thinking about its culture, which highlights values such as support, encouragement, teamwork, passion and work-life balance. “We believe in working hard when we’re here and being off when we’re off.”
Gary Medlin’s Fort Worth law practice is devoted to criminal defense. Medlin, in practice for 32 years, served as an assistant district attorney for eight years, giving him insight into how prosecutors prepare cases. The firm has three lawyers, including Medlin.
Longtime friends CEO Michail Orlov, Igor Motkin and Alex Grigorenko launched Weby in 2010 as a multi-channel retailer. Today, it sells firearms and other gear for hunting, shooting, camping, hiking, skiing and running. Weby operates several brick-and-mortar stores in the DFW area, an Amazon storefront, and marketplaces for more than 500 brands on online platforms such as eBay and Gun Broker. Weby also runs websites carrying the same names as its brick-and-mortar stores: webyshops.com, 1800gear.com, 1800gunsandammo.com and rununited.com. “We have been friends for ages,” Motkin says of the partners. “In our friendship, we see the power of ‘The Three Musketeers.’” The partners founded Weby in 2009 with a retail store in Arlington, specializing in tactical and military gear. Since then, the company has diversified into other lines. The company had about 30 employees in 2014, and today it has 75.
Muckleroy & Falls, started by Harold Muckleroy in 1979, is entering its 40th year in business. Muckleroy was interested in going into real estate development; his entrepreneur father suggested pairing construction with development. The company’s business had slowed, but it’s entered a new growth surge in the last several years, as Muckleroy and partner Max Falls had to decide whether to wind the business down and retire or set it up for the next generation of ownership, including Muckleroy’s son Zach Muckleroy, who came on board with two other new principals. Today, the firm has more than 50 employees and substantial backlog.
President Matt Michel founded Service Nation in 2002, a B2B company that operates a number of business alliances serving residential HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors. The base alliance is Service Roundtable, which has more than 4,000 member companies in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Service Nation operates what it calls the largest buying group and world’s largest trade show and conference for residential service contractors. Contracting Business Magazine has named Michel one of the “25 Most Influential People in the History of the HVACR Industry,” Contractor Magazine named him one of the “18 Most Influential People in the History of the Plumbing and Hydronics Industries,” and Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News named him one of the “Top Five Business Advisors in the Heating and Air Conditioning Industry.” Since 2014, Service Nation has begun to affiliate with local and state trade associations, helping fund them, provide networking for association executive directors and assist with programming. In 2016, Service Nation launched the major Service World trade show, serving residential service contractors, driving two competing shows out. Last fall, Service Nation launched a partnership with the University of North Texas under which UNT will offer training leading to a series of service industry certifications. These can be converted to college credit. The company today has 35 employees, compared to 21 in 2014.
Mark Pacheco and Jim Koch founded this civil engineering, land surveying and landscape architecture consulting firm in 1990 in Dallas, and managing partner Brian O’Neill opened the Fort Worth office in 2009. The firm also has offices in Houston, Celina and Austin. Pacheco Koch opened the Fort Worth beachhead as an engineering office specializing in infrastructure design for cities and counties. PKCE subsequently added survey and site development specialties to the office. Since 2014, the office has added water resources, landscape architecture, transportation and traffic specialties. PKCE has 189 employees today, up from 133 in 2014. The Fort Worth office has 55 employees today, compared to 26 in 2014.
G.L. Hunt, founded in 1987 by Gary Hunt, remains in the family, headed today by CEO Hayden Slack, Hunt’s father-in-law. Slack left his Defense Department job in February 2015 and came aboard G.L. Hunt to manage the business; Hunt retired two years ago and runs a roofing business today. The company attributes its growth surge to revamped image and branding, consolidation of all administrative functions at the company’s Fort Worth headquarters, significant investments in web marketing, and focus on customer experience and awareness of reviews. “We have really focused on the customer’s experience and making sure we are giving them five-star service,” Slack says. “The standard in our industry is the lifetime transferable warranty. When we earn a new customer, we just made a lifelong relationship. With that in mind, we do everything we can to make sure that relationship is a good one.” The company had about 85 employees at 2018’s peak, compared to about 40 in 2014.
The fast-growing Boardroom, founded by CEO Bruce Schultz in 2004, is getting ready for another growth surge. The company, which has nearly 40 salons across Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona, in August announced the closing of an investment by affiliates of LightBay Capital. With the money, Boardroom expects to accelerate growth significantly by opening new salons and markets. Schultz and wife Heather Schultz aggressively grew the company in a niche they saw no competition in, their salons providing hair, shave, spa services, complimentary beverages and membership packages. The company touts its employee compensation and benefits packages. The Schultzes recently opened Brighton Barber Institute to develop future talent.
VLK, founded 35 years ago, has grown into one of the state’s largest educational architecture firms, with offices in Fort Worth, Austin, Dallas, El Paso and Houston. The firm has earned numerous awards for design and has done multiple Collaborative for High Performance Schools and LEED-certified projects. VLK works in the K12 educational, commercial, interiors and automotive sectors. The firm, headed today by partners Leesa Vardeman, Sloan Harris and Todd Lien, is certified as a Women-Owned Business Enterprise. The firm has 151 employees today, compared to 69 at the end of 2014.
Twisted X, a maker of casual Western footwear, is having a much better time in its second life than its first. The company, founded in 2005, went into bankruptcy in 2008. A new team, headed by industry veteran and turnaround executive Prasad Reddy, entered and set the restructured company on an aggressive growth track. The company is shipping 120,000 pairs of shoes per month today, compared to 6,000 when the new group took over, Reddy says. Where the company was founded on Western boots, it’s added casual Western, which has taken off, Reddy says. “When people started trying them, it just grew,” Reddy says. Twisted X – inspired by the shape of barbed wire – is the main brand, and the company recently added Tamarindo, a women’s shoe. The company sells through 3,000 retailers nationwide but doesn’t sell online. “We don’t want to be competitors with our own retailers,” Reddy says. The company had five people in 2007; today, it has 37 full time at its Decatur offices, and 22 sales reps around the country. Twisted X has contract manufacturers at two sites in China and one in Mexico. It supports Snowball Express, a charity benefitting families of fallen soldiers, Presbyterian Night Shelter and breast cancer awareness.
Anirban Dutta and Sandeep Junaghare co-founded CompuMatrice in 2011. The company initially came out of the TechFW incubator in Fort Worth and now has a Dallas office in addition to maintaining its ties to TechFW. Where the company’s growth has come from: “We started venturing early into doing work on predictive analytics, which morphed into [artificial intelligence],” Dutta says. “A lot of our focus on AI enabled services as an early adopter firm resulted in us getting new clients, which helped increase our revenue base year over year.”
Much has changed about marketing since Rich Herbst founded Ascend Marketing in 2004. Today, with digital marketing much more complex, Herbst and Ascend have moved deeply into full integration of web marketing, social media and database-enabled customer engagement. In 2014, the company acquired Yellowfin Strategy + Design, significantly enhancing Ascend’s brand and digital design capabilities. “Now, as customer journey marketing skill is being acknowledged as a pivotal advantage for marketers, we’ve become experts in all its aspects,” Ekaterina Konovalova, who leads the digital and social media teams at Ascend, says. “Leveraging our advanced technology, automation and database expertise, we work seamlessly with clients’ disparate databases, able to access millions of customer files instantly, across all communication channels, throughout the customer lifecycle and in real time.” The company today has offices in Grapevine and Austin. In the fourth quarter of 2014, it had 37 employees. Today, it has 57, 39 in the Fort Worth area.
The latest from the fast-growing Ulrich Barn Builders: Last fall, it announced it would move its headquarters to Fort Worth’s Pier 1 Imports Building from Cleburne, a lease deal represented on both sides by JLL. “We chose Fort Worth as our nationwide headquarters, as we felt it fit us as a company and also provided a thriving workforce pool to accommodate growth in our Internet Shed Sales and Rent to Own divisions,” Jonathan Ulrich, CEO, said. “With growth both organically in Texas and recent acquisitions in California, Virginia and more in process, access to strong talent was high priority. This gives us the ability to grow to not only be the highest-rated shed company in North America, but also in the top two or three in terms of number of families served.” Jerry Ulrich and son David founded the company in 1990; Jonathan Ulrich is Jerry’s son and owns the company. The company manufactures and sells a range of backyard structures, including storage sheds, craft rooms, man caves, “she sheds,” cabin shells and finished log cabins.
The commercial construction company founded in 1979 by David Freeman is doing well under the leadership of second-generation CEO Michael Freeman. At the 60-employee company’s heart: relationships inside the firm and out. The company’s client base is full of return clients and architects. In Roanoke, it’s building the new city hall downtown. In the last 13 years, it’s built a recreation center, fire station and library for the city, and the firm is lining up for a shot at the planned Roanoke public safety center. The company works to make sure its employees, clients and subs know about a lengthy list of core values, which Steele & Freeman believes set the tone for consistently high service. “Everything we do is based on relationships,” Freeman says.
ISHIR has come a long way since Rishi Khanna founded it in the study of his home in 1999, primarily to help startups with their software needs. “It’s like building a house,” says Khanna, who bought out a partner and has been sole owner of the company since 2010. His clients today are mostly midmarket to large companies, with some startups. “They’re building products,” he says. He has six employees and four contractors locally. But his remote network is much larger. The firm designs and manages projects here and goes offshore for “mostly heavy lifting,” Khanna says. “We’ve sort of figured out our secret sauce. Our secret sauce is having a clear-cut goal. We hire people who are really passionate in what they do. They have this need to solve a problem.”
Derrick Potter and Patrick Dodson, both firefighters, launched Firefighting’s Finest Moving & Storage in their off-duty time in 2001 in Fort Worth. Today, the company has operations in Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston. The company started with one truck and crews that ran moving jobs a few times per week. Today, it’s grown to nearly 30 trucks, running residential, commercial and in-house moves and is a full-service packing, moving and storage business. Since 2014, the company has refocused on customer service, emphasizing employee development and growth. The company’s also expanded its core services to put more emphasis on full-service, white-glove moving, with crating, packing and unpacking services, and the company’s expanded into warehousing and receiving. Additionally, Firefighting’s Finest has become a Defense Department-approved Transportation Service Provider, allowing it to handle moves for members of the Armed Forces. The company is looking to add additional services, and expand existing ones, in its current markets and is beginning to expand into Austin. It’s also looking for locations in San Antonio and El Paso. The company has 90 employees today, which expands during the peak summer, up from about 20 in 2014.
Whitley Penn, founded in 1983, has been on a growth trend, having its team members speak at local and national industry conferences to showcase their industry knowledge, adding team members to assure depth and bring in new business to the firm’s key industry segments. The company’s new downtown Fort Worth headquarters in the Frost Tower has enabled it to more easily move about the business community, it says. The firm, headed today by managing partner Larry Autrey, says its due diligence, quality of earnings, international and state and local tax teams are growing at a faster rate than the firm. The firm says it expects to add additional consulting services. The firm today has 500 employees, up from 305 in 2014, located in Fort Worth, Dallas, Plano, Austin and Houston.
Venus Construction, founded in 1967 and specializing in utility construction, is led by third-generation family: CEO Josh McAda, grandson of founder Samuel McAda, who died in 1994, and other family members. Josh McAda, who had served in every role in the field for the company, took the helm in 2001 when his father died. Today, Venus has more than 200 team members working all over the Fort Worth-Dallas area, with a mix of commercial, residential, municipal and TxDOT transportation projects. In 2015, Venus, for the first time, was ranked on the Engineering News-Record’s list of the Top 600 Specialty Contractors in the nation at 502. The company since 2014 has diversified into state and municipality work, alongside the commercial and land development work it was already doing. Today, it has more than 250 employees, compared to 124 in 2014.
Higginbotham, founded in 1948 and the oldest of our Fastest-Growing, opened as a personal insurance broker serving Fort Worth. Today, it brokers commercial insurance, employee benefits, retirement plans, executive benefits and life insurance. The firm supplements coverage with risk management and benefit plan administration services. Higginbotham has been ranked by revenue as the largest independent broker based in Texas for the past three years, and it’s ranked No. 27 largest in the U.S. It operates 30 offices in Texas, plus one in Oklahoma and one in Georgia. The firm was founded by Paul C. Higginbotham, who died in 1962. His nephew Bill Stroud purchased and managed the firm until 1989, when current CEO Rusty Reid assumed leadership and implemented a broad-based employee ownership structure that continues today. The company has grown organically and through acquisition. More than 40 firms have merged with Higginbotham since 2008, when the firm launched its new partner strategy. Between 2014 and 2018, 27 partners joined Higginbotham, expanding its footprint across Texas and into Oklahoma and Georgia.
Debbie Cooley founded M-Pak in April 1999, selling industrial packaging to private business and government. In 2012, Cooley expanded the business to include tactical gear for military, police, fire and emergency medical service teams. The company added locations in Charleston, South Carolina, and Hines, Illinois, that led to growth since 2014. Sales also increased at the company’s Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Aledo locations. The company’s retail division also has grown, providing tactical clothing, uniforms and gear for first responders. The company today has 15 employees, including 14 in Aledo and one in Massachusetts.
Entrepreneurs Bryan Cortney and Jesse Hejny founded Purple Land Management in 2010, developing a strategy based on increasing the public’s knowledge of the impact of mineral leasing and natural gas production, building relationships and trust. The company’s clients include energy producers, mid-stream operators, mobile service providers, engineering firms and municipal and state agencies.
By: Scott Nishimura1
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Brian Kendall