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Kevin Plumb and Jeff Smith are not just qualified to be called entrepreneurs of the year—they could be considered entrepreneurs of the past 20 years. Together they’ve started or acquired and grown six companies in the past two decades, including Smith and Associates, USConnect, Cerberian, ClearPlex, Beehive Brick and Overstock Drugstore. “It’s just fun to build a company. It’s so satisfying,” Smith says. “It’s our way of challenging ourselves.”
Don’t mistake their habit of changing companies for a lack of dedication. Their current company, Ingram Medical, was struggling shortly after they acquired it, so they injected a lot of their own money into the company to keep it afloat while they changed it from a medical wholesaler to a direct-to-consumer diabetes supply provider. They also decided to place a greater emphasis on using technology to meet their customers’ needs. Those changes paid off. Ingram now has more than 100,000 customers and has hired 270 employees over the past couple years.
Bryce Johnson joined Zarbee’s as CEO shortly after its 2008 launch. Founded by pediatrician Dr. Zak Zarbock, Zarbee’s is the first doctor-endorsed, over-the-counter, all-natural children’s cough and cold product, which has become a household staple for many families with young children.
Johnson says growing the company has been extremely rewarding, but hasn’t come without challenges. His first major trial began on his first day with the company, when it lost a stocking agreement with Walgreens. “The loss of Walgreens in my opinion was a great loss, but it was an opportunity to define the company and how we could prevail in the face of adversity,” he says. “In early-stage startups, there are often more reasons to quit then there are reasons to continue.”
Johnson was integral to the company’s triumph over that challenge when he secured investment from Catterton Partners, the nation’s largest consumer goods private-equity fund. He also helped ramp up the company’s executive team with execs from Schiff Nutrition and Procter & Gamble.
When searching the internet for great baby-product deals, Jana Francis was surprised to find that a one-stop baby-deals site didn’t exist. An entrepreneur at heart, Francis quit her day job, borrowed $5,000 from her bank account and launched BabySteals.com. “I may have lost thousands of good nights’ sleep, but I breathe the entrepreneurial spirit, believed in my concept and was determined to make my obsession my profession,” she says.
Soon after its launch, Francis recruited e-commerce pro Rett Clevenger to serve as CEO. Together they have grown the company into a multi-million-dollar business, with more than 75 employees and three additional daily-deals sites—KidSteals.com, ScrapbookSteals.com and SheSteals.com.
Francis says key to the organization’s growth and success is its commitment to its mission statement, “We send joy,” which it implements externally to customers and internally to employees. “Steals.com’s unique company culture supports [the company’s] mission statement ‘we send joy,’” she says. “Employees want to win and share a burning desire to succeed.”
Jeff Pedersen isn’t afraid of shaking things up to make a business work. He started a line of retail stores in Caribbean tourist destinations called Cariloha during the 2008 economic downturn, and sales were poor during the company’s first year. With Cariloha seemingly doomed to fail, Pedersen decided the brand needed its own distinctive niche. He found it in bamboo, a material that is sustainable, versatile and can be used to make soft, breathable fabrics. He developed an entirely bamboo-based line of clothing, bed and bath products, and accessories, liquidated existing inventory and redesigned the retail stores. Cariloha began to thrive, and the store now has 32 locations in 12 countries. After doing $1 million in sales in 2008, the company is on track to do $25 million this year.
Cariloha isn’t Pedersen’s first foray into creating a business. In 2000 he started Del Sol, a line of products that change color in the sun, which now operates more than 100 stores in 25 countries.