Photos by Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul Photography
The INC 5,000 is the who’s who of up and coming businesses. Despite the majority of businesses coming from large cities (San Francisco has 158 businesses on the list and New York City has 381 businesses), little old Fargo appeared on the list with nine different businesses. Let’s take a minute to celebrate these companies.
Toby Kommer, owner of Haga Kommer, an accounting firm in Fargo, came back from vacation a couple of months ago and as he was going through all the mundane activities of returning to work, he was surprised to find a package on his desk. In it was a nice little surprise. Haga Kommer made the INC 500 list.
Six months ago, Kommer filled out the form and sent it off, not thinking much would come with it. However, his firm and eight other Fargo companies made this prestigious list.
“It’s interesting because four years ago, we weren’t even on the radar screen,” said Kommer. “It’s interesting to see all the North Dakota businesses on there and the other thing that didn’t surprise me, but made me feel good, was that we looked at our number and we looked at the numbers right before and after that, the numbers that were on there from Chicago, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and the East Coast and to see little Fargo, North Dakota was pretty cool.”
Making the list at number 333 with 1,482 percent growth over the last three years, validated all the hard work that Kommer and his team have put in over the last several years. The only Fargo company to come in above them was CoSchedule at number 153 with 2,771 percent growth.
“When we started CoSchedule, we believed the sky was the limit for this company. This achievement is an honor, but to do it here, and with this passionate group of people, gives it so much more meaning,” said Garrett Moon, CEO and Co-Founder, CoSchedule. “Believe me, many said it wasn’t possible from North Dakota, but there is a legacy of successful software companies here and we are proud to continue and cultivate that tradition. We’ve been saying that we’re one of the fastest growing startups for a while now, it’s finally nice to have more data behind our bravado.”
So all this growth begs the question. How did they do it?
“I wish it was this huge secret formula but it came down to two things for us,” said Kommer. “I talk about us being an acquirer of choice and an employer of choice.”
Over the last several years, Haga Kommer approached many business owners who built their business 30-40 years ago and didn’t want to see their business sold to a big company. They recognized that Kommer wanted to still honor their business.
“When I started talking with them about our culture and what we were trying to do, I think they saw themselves in what we were doing and what they were initially doing,” said Kommer. “We’ve done five acquisitions in the last five years and most of those former owners are still with us.”
The next ingredient in the not so secret formula is their employees. Haga Kommer invests and spends a lot of time on their culture.
“I think the CPA industry, as a whole, is behind the culture movement that has been going on for the last 10 years…” said Kommer. “In the CPA world, there’s so many of the old school CPAs that still wear the 80-90 work week like a badge of honor and this next generation doesn’t want that. Not that they’re afraid to work hard, but they want more of a work-life balance. They want something different.”
Obviously, all businesses want to grow, but few actually are able to accomplish this. However, Kommer is the driving factor behind Haga Kommer’s growth.
“I’ve always enjoyed growth. It seems like I get bored, quite frankly, if we’re status quo. I think most employees like to be part of a growing company. They like the fact that the company is being talked about. Everybody wants to have pride in where they work. … Quite frankly, everybody has their strengths and weaknesses and one of my strengths is taking companies that have plateaued out and bringing them to the next level.”
Anytime you’re honored, whether personally or professionally, with an award, it is a good time to stop and reflect on how you got there and where you’re going. Despite all the growth, Kommer has no desire to slow down.
“I sent an email out to our team saying that we don’t expect to slow down. We’ll probably shift gears a little bit. Acquisitions will slow down a little bit … We’ll probably be a little more focused on the different services we offer and the internal growth piece. … But it’ll still be at a fast pace. I don’t have any interest of sitting back or coasting.”
Kommer’s Advice For Other Business Owners Looking To Grow
“Find like minded people. The old saying is that steel sharpens steel. I like being around people who are growing their company. I actually prefer to be around people who are outside of our industry and growing their company because they don’t bring the same old clichés and the same old view of things. I like to spend time with those completely outside of what we’re doing and completely unrelated to our business. It gives you inspiration. Seeking out advice, whether it’s from someone in a similar situation or somebody in a completely different situation. I think sometimes people are afraid to lay it out there.”
When looking at growth, there are oftentimes two ways to do it. Either grow your business organically and grind it out or look at a merger or acquisition. Kommer advises you to ask yourself some questions before diving in to which route to take.
“I think it depends on what your long term strategy is. It’s always a combination of growth. It depends on what your strength is and what your strategy is. I think some people know that they’re best in a company of 10 people. They can start with a couple people and grow like that and that’s where they’re strengths are at.
“Other people understand that they are better with bigger numbers and bigger organizations and directing traffic. That road, depending on the industry, a merger or acquisition might be the only way to go. I think the big thing is to either way have a plan. It just seems like so many businesses and business owners sometimes can’t articulate what is my plan. If I’m doing this acquisition, why exactly am I doing it? What am I getting out of it? Am I doing it just because it was an opportunity that somebody brought up and it ended up in my lap?”
By The Numbers
$206.2 billion: The revenue companies on the INC 5,000 amassed in 2017
$79.8 billion: The revenue companies on the INC 5,000 amassed in 2014. The total has increased by 158 percent
75,661%: SwanLeap, a logistics and transportation made the number one spot with an astonishing 75,661 percent growth since 2014.
$163.1 million: The revenue companies from Fargo on the INC 5,000 amassed
Fargo Companies On The INC 5,000
- 2,771% growtco
- $4.8 million revenue
- 1,482% growth
- $3.6 million revenue
- 742% growth
- $4.1 million revenue
- 742% growth
- $4.1 million revenue
- 119% growth
- $81.2 million revenue
- 119% growth
- $4.8 million revenue
- 80% growth
- $3.8 million revenue
- 74% growth
- $42.4 million revenue
- 57% growth
- $14.3 million revenue
How To Enter
To be eligible for the INC 5,000, businesses must meet the following five qualifications:
- Be privately-owned, based in the United States, independent (not a subsidiary or division of another company)
- Have started earning revenue by March 31, 2014
- Had revenue no less than $100,000 in 2014
- Had revenue no less than $2,000,000 in 2017
- Revenue in 2017 exceeds revenue in 2014
- Applications are currently not open for the 2019 list but watch inc.com/inc5000/apply for more information.
5195 45th St., S, Fargo