Startup companies don’t always take wads of venture capital to get off the ground. Some of the most promising — and inspiring — companies are fueled by the passion, drive and persistence of founders who never took a dime of outside funding.
That’s what today’s category is all about in the GeekWire Awards, our annual celebration of the most innovative entrepreneurs and companies in the Pacific Northwest. Bootstrapper of the Year recognizes the company that achieved something extra special, without taking money from others.
That’s no easy task, and this year’s crop of bootstrappers certainly have met with success.
As with each of our categories, the five finalists below were nominated by the community and then selected with the input of our panel of judges. The winners will be announced May 8th at the GeekWire Awards show, taking place at the EMP Museum in Seattle.
A big thanks to our Bootstrapper of the Year category sponsor, Creative Circle, for helping to make the award possible. As you’ll see below, bootstrappers come in all forms, with entrepreneurs from the health, travel and the retail industries.
Cast your ballot here:
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BrandVerity: No money, that’s no problem for BrandVerity’s David Naffziger and crew. Launched in 2008, Brand Verity has built a powerful tool that helps online brands detect possible trademark infringements, discovering trademark poachers and other abusers. Clients of the 14-person startup have included Netflix, GoDaddy, Sephora and others.
Dwellable: Adam Doppelt didn’t take any outside money when he co-founded Urbanspoon, the wildly successful online restaurant locator that sold to IAC in 2009. And the Seattle entrepreneur is following that path again with Dwellable, maker of a popular mobile app for finding awesome vacation rental properties. Doppelt co-founded Dwellable after a Hawaiian beach vacation didn’t go as planned, and he’s stuck to his bootstrapping ways, even though there are big competitors in the market like HomeAway. Doppelt, along with CEO Kirby Winfield, have never let big rivals get in their way.
Edifecs: Sunny Singh embodies the principles of a bootstrapping entrepreneur, forming Edifecs in 1996 to solve a simple, yet cumbersome problem. Health care companies waste too much money on IT costs. With laser-focus, Singh drilled into the problem, and hasn’t looked back. The company is one of the fastest-growing in the region, and just announced a plan to move into larger digs in its hometown of Bellevue, securing 71,000 square feet. Edifecs now employs more than 600 people, including 240 in Washington state. Certainly a bootstrapping success story.
Geocaching: Geocaching founders Jeremy Irish, Bryan Roth and Elias Alvord not only started a company 14 years ago, they sparked an entire industry around the fun location-based activity of discovering hidden treasures in unusual spots. Now, geocaches are found all over the planet, and even off the planet. (Yes, there’s one cache on the International Space Station). In true bootstrapping spirit, the founders received their initial capital by selling 144 donated geocaching t-shirts, starting the company out of Irish’s spare bedroom. Not bad, considering the company has grown into a force in the geocaching world and now hosts an annual festival near its headquarters in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, one that draws fans from all over the world.
Yoogi’s Closet: Simon and Eugenia Han, the husband-and-wife team behind Yoogi’s Closet, get plenty of calls from venture capitalists. After all, their luxury consignment online retailing business is growing fast, with more than $1 million in monthly sales. But the Hans have turned down those inquiries, building a profitable 18-person business that’s making a mark in the sale of handbags, jewelry and shoes. “We don’t talk exit at all here,” said Han, who used proceeds from a sale of his $102,000 Ferrari to start the business. “We are just focused on the next milestone.”
Tickets are selling fast for the Awards, so make sure to get yours today!