Why Submit Your Company for the Inc. 5000 List and the Value of Attending the Conference

In 2019, Nyla was ranked #598 of the Inc. Magazine’s List of the 5000 Fastest Growing Private companies in the United States by Inc. Magazine

Why Participate in the Inc. 5000

Submitting your application to be considered for the Inc. 5000 requires little work. All you have to submit is three certified revenue statements from your accountant and answer a few simple questions.

For us as a company, once we won, the public recognition and ranking were thrilling. Starting a business from scratch is hard and then growing it into something bigger than yourself is harder still. Ranking on the Inc. 5000 the first year we were eligible gave us national recognition that our hard work has paid off. 

Once we shared the news publicly, the recognition of being an up-and-comer, one-to-watch has been opening doors for us. We have gotten many emails and calls offering us financial support (personal for you, and then also your business), real estate, etc. It definitely feels like you have now ‘leveled-up.’ 

The biggest expense, outside of attending the conference, is the fees for any awards (statues, plaques, etc.) that you’d like to purchase and the exorbitant fee they charge for one-year licensing rights to use several versions of the digital logo. We didn’t pay for the digital logo at first, but then after a few months ended up doing so we could put it on the homepage of our website. A little recognized award never hurts sales. People like to buy from companies that others have validated. As they say ‘success breeds success.’

The Inc. 5000 Conference

As CEO, I decided to attend the conference and brought my husband, Brian Cosgrove, who is also our company’s Chief Information Officer, along with me.  

Being a Business-to-Government (B2G) firm, I didn’t expect to or plan to get many sales from the conference. The main reasons I went were because I wanted to see what new and different ideas I would get from being surrounded by a different crowd and I wanted a time to celebrate. Often I am so focused on our next company goal or internal fire, that I rarely take a minute to stop and celebrate how far we have come in business and how much we have accomplished.

The Best Parts of the Conference

The conference took place on October 10-12, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Hands down the best part of the conference was meeting other founders who are as passionate, interested, successful, and even battered a bit, from years of founding and growing a business. Being a leader in business, especially at a small upstart, is often a lonely road, but at the conference when talking to others, I felt like I had found my tribe. I really enjoyed hearing other people’s stories and experiences. 

I met Russ Layton who, in his spare time, slowly but carefully invented a new and safe way to sharpen ice skates which will now be used at ice rinks all throughout the world. Inc. featured him and his company Sparx in their September 2019 issue in an article titled This Guy Grew Up Knowing 2 Things: Hard Work and Hockey. Before the conference, I had read the article which details how he toiled away for years perfecting the machine. Then, as luck would have it, I just happened to run into him on the conference floor. I asked him what he did and he said ‘hockey’ so casually and humbly. Meanwhile, I found his story so impressive; one of future legends. 

I met digital marketers, a family-led scaffolding company SkyLine Scaffold, Instagram stars, even a modern-day paper sales company (think Dunder-Mifflin!) For years, I have read Inc. Magazine always wanting to be an entrepreneur.  And now, here were the stories I had read alive in front of me. And crazier yet, I was one of them! 

The Conference Overall

All of the big-ballroom, morning speakers were exceptional and world-class. Most of the day, from 9am to 1pm, is spent in a big conference room with your gaze floating between the big screen blasting the view to those in back and the stage itself. Each speaker was truly incredible. You are able to spend the hour not just captivated, but taking notes. Both my husband and I were sure to order the speakers books right away and we devoured them. We then passed them on as must-read (listen/watch) recommendations to our team back at Nyla. 

The speakers are a mix of experts (Ex: Nir Eyal, Author of Indistratcable) and several big name entrepreneurs came on stage to tell their story. Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, the duo who founded Method cleaning products, spoke and although they could not have been more different from each other, they explained how they are able to balance each other out. They briefly told the story of how they got their products into Target, which was the nexus of their explosive growth.  I actually wished they had spent more time elaborating on that since it is deals like that which can really make or break another company.

Another one that sticks in my mind was, Jen Rubio, the founder of Away and and her mentee, Sierra Tishgart, the founder of cookware company Great Jones. Rubio had a great story that totally seemed to make sense. She worked for Warby Parker, was a known entity, and found backing as she moved into luggage. On the other hand, Tishgart was a journalist who wanted to move into cookware. I don’t remember Great Jones valuation, but I do remember thinking that her story seemed totally crazy and that she had a true fairy godmother in Rubio. 

Post conference happy hours are sponsored by B2B companies and they are a great chance to really get to slow down and talk to others. One person we met at a post-conference happy hour was Josh Levin. Josh founded and leads Empowered Electric, a $3.6 million electrical contractor company in Kansas City, which among other things has a successful InstaGram following with more than 14k followers. Josh grew up on the wrong side of the tracks with little to no money.  As a kid he never knew where his next meal was coming from. Needless to say, Josh becoming a successful entrepreneur with a massive IG following, once seemed like an unlikely scenario. But, with the odds stacked against him in every way, he beat those odds with hard work and determination. Josh is such a humble, fun, and passionate guy. It was so interesting to hear via casual conversation all of the things he does differently at his company and the pure focus he has on taking care of his employees. 

Another inspirational story from the conference was that of Michael Acton Smith, one of the co-founders of the Calm App.  With more than 50 million downloads, Calm is one of the most successful wellness apps out there. It was not an overnight success story though.  His journey and the story of the company’s success he describes as being completely “bonkers.”  

Alex Rodriguez spoke at the conference and his story was impressive. Though polished, Alex’s talk seemed so real and authentic. He went from some high highs to some low lows. I really enjoyed hearing his story and the genesis of how he became interested in real estate. His company, A-Rod Corp, employs over 500 people and, according to Forbes, “manages both internal and external capital while investing in a diverse portfolio including real estate, sports and wellness, media and entertainment.” Rodriguez talked about failure and resilience which he says is key in business.  He says he seeks out “entrepreneurs who have a sound business strategy but also show a ‘winning spirit’ and a tangible level of grit” when looking for new companies to invest in.  I have to agree on the grit part. Business is not easy and to be successful you have to be someone who is willing to get back up when the going gets you down (because it will.)

A highlight of the conference for me was attending the CapitalOne Spark Business sponsored a “Women of the Inc. 5000 Lunch” networking lunch.  Hosted by Rebecca Minkoff, she interviewed the founder and CEO of Solidcore Anne Mahlum for Rebecca’s podcast Superwomen. By dumb luck, I came in late-ish to the lunch and happened to sit at one of the few empty seats which was right next to Rebecca and a Capital One executive. As both Rebecca and Anne were in their mid 30s, I found their stories very inspirational. I think the common thread you’ll notice about founders of companies is that it takes extraordinary strength and pluck to not only have the idea but keep going and get others to buy your product and buy into your vision. After the luncheon, we got a fashionable clutchlett from Rebecca Minkoff with a Solidcore shirt inside. 

At the conference, I also discovered that I really like being interviewed. I was interviewed by Ryan Culpepper and Sam Pennell for their podcast, USA Booming. Culpepper and Pennell are brothers-in-law who are Wells Fargo guys. They just recently launched their podcast officially, and I thought they did a great job interviewing. They had an effortless back and forth banter that put me at ease immediately. I felt more like I’d had a natural conversation with two people instead of being formally interviewed. I can’t wait to hear the podcast when it is released!

The conference is wrapped up with a huge gala, which our host nicknamed the “Work-a-Holics Prom.” Though the first part of the Saturday night gala was long and felt like a big high school graduation (the kind held in an arena) in that they literally read off all 5000 companies, it was nevertheless extremely exciting to hear Nyla’s name being called

What to Wear 

The range of attire was similar to the attire worn in today’s modern and varied business place. A few people wore suit jackets and jeans, some wore flip flops and shorts, but most wore a variety of business casual. I did find that women tended to dress up more than the men; plenty of dresses and fully made up faces (myself included.) There weren’t a lot of clear brand-name luxury clothing labels on display. When people did wear high-end brands, it seemed that Gucci was the favored luxury brand. In the pre-conference notes, they say prepare to be cold and I will say the conference area is pretty much always freezing. Definitely plan to wear layers. 

SWAG Rating

Our Inc. 5000 Conference welcome swag bag consisted of my favorite sunglasses, Goodr, which had me hooked when I first found them at the local running store. They are colorful, light, and cute. Perfect for your run and just lounging around the pool later. I took my husband’s pair off his hands immediately. 

Inside the conference area, computer company Lenvo had a “Grind Time” coffee themed booth and they went all out. They had a working barista who could serve you whatever delicious coffee related drink you want. They had Yeti-style coffee mugs as giveaways, single serving packs, hats that said Grind Time (my husband’s favorite swag from the event), and t-shirts too. They also had a great display of their products and plenty of qualified staff to help growing entrepreneurs get the tech they need. 

Another swag-level thing that was unexpected was, not only getting a chance to meet many of the speakers who authored books, but that you got a signed copy of the book for free. Yes, please! We filled our up backpacks. 

What Could Be Better

Easy, sell more items! Being a techie myself, I think one of our company’s strengths is our comfort with adopting and using new and different tools that help us with automation, sales, etc. There was virtually no one at the conference speaking about that or selling. For example, there wasn’t even a CRM system introduce or digital marketing tools. 

Alex Rodriguez recently became an investor in the Vegas-based fitness franchise, TruFusion, and they were at the conference offering not only the opportunity to become a franchise owner, but also some workout leggings from Jennifer Lopez’s new partnership with sustainable activewear brand Niyama Sol. The leggings were adorable but don’t come with a matching shirt, which seems odd to me. People always want to buy a complete outfit. 

An idea to better incorporate merchandising into the conference might be to let Inc. 5000 product companies get booths on the floor and offer their products for purchase. I met a woman who had a great jewelry shop and it would have been fun to be able to buy some items right on the spot. 

Major Take Away

The major take away for me was the importance of the mind-body connection. Author and Harvard Business School professor, and social psychologist Amy Cuddy spoke. Her speech was completely different from what I expected. I thought it was going to be all about leadership and maybe specifically female leadership, but a lot of it was about body language and having your body language speak to who you want to be – confident, poised, calm. Cuddy, who is also a body language expert famous for the “power pose,” emphasized that it is also important to use that body language not only for public speaking but whenever people are watching, which, when you are a leader, is all the time.