Make no mistake, the basis for business is to make money. That hasn't changed since the dawn of capitalism. But increasingly, companies that rise to the top have been driven by something more: a greater purpose --whether it's providing jobs, improving lives, protecting the environment, fostering stronger human connections or some alternative higher aim--and the money has followed.
That much was evident from the nominations submitted for ColoradoBiz magazine's 27th annual Top Company Awards, arguably Colorado's most competitive and rigorously judged program of its kind. "The thing that really jumped out at me is, [the Top Company winners] are more givers than takers," said Sean Nohavec, senior vice president of business development at UMB Bank in Colorado and one of this year's Top Company panel participants. "They're people and companies who are very involved in the community. When people care, that's what separates them."
In fact, a recent Deloitte study validated that organizations that work toward more than merely profit perform better than those without a "culture of purpose."
The survey, which sampled 1,310 American adults, found that 90 percent of individuals who believe their organizations maintain a strong sense of purpose also reported strong financial showings over the past year.
While countless businesses start up every year, only the strong survive and only the strongest surpass their peers and competitors to make it to the top. For the last 27 years, through economic rough patches and sweet spots, ColoradoBiz has sought to recognzie companies in the state that work harder, better and quicker than the rest.
This year, we combined our finalist and winner coverage, with three finalists from each of the 13 industry categories, and one winner selected from each of those. Check out our 2014 Top Company winners and finalists on the pages that follow.
Winners' profiles by Nora Caley & Mike Dano
THIS HAS BEEN a year of milestones for RE/MAX and its ubiquitous balloon.
The real estate franchise company celebrated its 40th anniversary. The Denver-based firm, founded by Dave and Gail Liniger in 1973, has grown to 94,000 agents in 95 countries. But some people don't realize the Colorado company is that large, says CEO Margaret Kelly. "My favorite question is, 'Are you in all 50 states?'" she says. "Friends email me photos of RE/MAX signs and they write, 'I see you here!'"
It is indeed a worldwide business, with 6,400 offices, most owned by franchisees. The company went public last year, with an initial public offering that Kelly calls a huge undertaking.
"It was a very big change because you have to adjust your accounting, have independent directors and an audit committee," she says, "it isn't just ringing the bell." Last October, the Linigers did ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange after the stock (RMAX) debuted.
As for the balloon, this was its 35th anniversary of the company logo. RE/MAX has real balloons too, 108 of them in 26 countries, for free flights and tethered rides at school fairs and other community events.
Other community efforts include donating $130 million to Children's Miracle Network hospitals over the years, and a total of $8 million to Susan G. Komen, the Dallas-based breast cancer organization. Also, franchisees can choose their own causes, so the offices give to local organizations.
The agents are not only charitable but also productive. Several RE/MAX offices and agents were listed in the 2014 Real Trends "The Thousand," a series of four 250-place rankings of real estate professionals: top individuals by transactions, top teams by transactions, top individuals by sales volume, and top teams by sales volume. RE/MAX agents represented 112 of the 500 transaction rankings for agents and teams combined.
Kelly says RE/MAX attracts more experienced Realtors than other companies. "The new agent coming up really does not fit our model," she says. "They need education and experience before they become an agent with RE/MAX." In 2013, they averaged $4.3 million in sales volume, a 26 percent increase over 2012. RE/MAX agents also averaged 17.5 transaction sides, an increase of 4.3 percent compared to 2012.
Last year, RE/MAX launched the luxury listing site, The RE/MAX Collection (theremaxcollection.com).
The homes on the site have listing prices at least twice the market's average.
The housing industry is in the middle of a multi-year recovery, Kelly says. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales totaled $4.89 million in May. Although that was a decrease of 5 percent compared to May 2013, the total was up compared to 2011 and 2012.
"Americans learned when you buy a house it's a place to live first and an investment second," Kelly says. "We are getting back to a normal housing market."
Software * Four Winds Interactive * fourwindsinteractive.com
FOUR WINDS INTERACTIVE is known for its digital signs that help meeting-goers make their way around hotels, but CEO David Levin says the company does much more.
"For our digital signage product there are thousands of different uses," he says. In fact, hospitality is only one third of FWi's business. The company also provides digital signs and software in 700 colleges for student communication networks, 20 hospitals for patients and visitors, and flight information for American Airlines in 10 major airports.
When the company launched nine years ago, it had to train people to touch the screens to get information; today consumers presume every screen has touch capabilities. Meanwhile buildings and facilities professionals expect signage to be aesthetically interesting and interactive and want the software to be easy to manage.
This year FWi launched a new software platform and new app store concept.
"From a product development standpoint it was our best year that I can remember," Levin says. The new software platform, version 5.0, helps users create and manage content.
The user can deploy and manage communications on kiosks, desktops and mobile devices.
Financially it was a good year too, as FWi's sales increased 20 percent in 2013. Even better, Levin says, subscription software revenue more than doubled from first quarter 2013 to first quarter 2014. That success coupled with the fact that more industries need interactive signage makes Levin optimistic that the company will continue to thrive.
"In almost every industry there is some application or use for our product," he says. "That's exciting to me." Customers use FWi products and software for everything from a single digital menu board to larger communications efforts such as companies sending training materials to their employees' iPads. Levin hopes to increase market share not only domestically but worldwide. The company's charitable contributions also stretch way beyond the borders. FWi recently began funding Wildlife Protection Solutions, which works to save endangered species, such as rhinos in Africa.
FWi hired 30 people over the past year, for a total of 300 employees. "It is a positive, not only in the number of people, but also their contribution to the company," Levin says. "We bring in great minds."
Technology * SendGrid * sendgrid.com
SENDGRID WORKS TO MAKE sure emails from Pinterest, Uber and Foursquare get into peoples' inboxes, and scams stay out. The Denver-based company celebrated its fifth anniversary in July.
"It was a fantastic year," says CEO Jim Franklin. "Revenue was up 75 percent over the previous year, and we have over 200 employees." That's up from 157 employees in June 2013.
Franklin believes that success will continue because the service is based on subscriptions. Calling itself the "email deliverability leader," SendGrid attracts companies that want large volumes of email managed. Foursquare, for example, sends 2 million emails a day to tell its users about friend requests or updates. Uber sends tips to its users on how not to be fooled into getting a ride from a non-Uber car.
"We add people to our service, and their businesses are growing," Franklin says. "This year we will see another 50 percent increase and will be in a position to go public in 2015 if we so choose."
Today SendGrid's biggest client is Pinterest, which sends 2 billion emails a month. SendGrid not only sends emails, but also provides clients information on whether emails are received, when they are opened, and what device they are opened on.
Of course Pinterest users presumably want to get those emails. SendGrid makes sure potential clients are not sending spam. "Our goal is to send the world's wanted email," Franklin says. "They have to apply for an account. We look at their LinkedIn profile, and we have 30 people in our support group that do 24/7 phone and email support and vet new accounts."
If a would-be client says it is based in Colorado, the system can tell the emails are coming from, for example, Pakistan. That would be a fail, he says. The system has algorithms to uncover bad behavior, such as inappropriate mail, or a sudden spike in volume. "We will basically freeze your account, and you have to call us and get reactivated," Franklin says. "We're sniffing out the bad guys."
They are also sniffing out future talent. The company tries to get kids interested in programming through events such as Sphero Rangers, which sponsored a robotics competition, and helps startups through Galvanize, a community of mentors, investors and others supporting technology startups.
Franklin expects business to remain strong in the future because customers tend to subscribe and then stay. "Our metrics are incredibly steady," he says. "We have a low churn rate. People don't leave. We have tremendous predictability and momentum."
Tourism / Hospitality RMC * rmcdmc.com
RMC, formerly Rocky Mountain Connections, did not slow down operations during the most recent economic recession. Even though some meeting and...