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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Head of the Class

No. 2 Elite Merchant Solutions Van Nuys Provides merchants nationwide with products and services for credit card authorization and transactions, including point-of-sale equipment, ATM machines and related software. Founded: 2002 Growth: 427 percent 2012 Revenue: $30.1 million Question: Where did you get the idea for your company? Answer: (Founder and CEO Justin Milmeister) I was doing commercial real estate and I went to a retail center for a listing appointment. I started walking around the unit to see what types of merchants were there. I stopped to have lunch at a restaurant and talked to the owner, who couldn’t run my credit card for the bill. He started telling me about it being a nightmare and that it hadn’t been running for three days. It triggered something and I started doing research based on the conversation. Where did you get your initial financing? I worked off of a little personal savings and family help. Initially to get up and running it took $20,000. I started working out of a 150-square-foot office in one of my parent’s self-storage complexes, which allowed for very little overhead cost. I did all the sales, service and support in the beginning. What was your biggest challenge when starting your company? Lack of knowledge and experience, falling down many times and learning from my mistakes. Also, calling competitors and visiting various competitors to find out how the industry worked. It was very difficult (but) by learning on the fly, you really learn quickly. What was your big break? I met a CPA that was referred from a large furniture chain (that I was soliciting business from). His office happened to be down the street from where I lived. We had a great meeting and he ended up signing the furniture chain (for me) and referred other clients as well in that beginning stage. I still keep in contact with that CPA. How has Elite Merchant Solutions kept up its growth? Staying on the cutting edge of technology; comprehensive training of sales staff keeps them abreast of weaving through the complicated structure of the payment processing space. Our focus has been securing referral relationships, various banks, software providers and developers. Our average merchant volume is much higher than the average in the industry. We take customer support very seriously. We have a low attrition rate on our clients. What are your growth plans? We have been looking at acquiring other competitors and opening an office in New York in the first quarter of next year. What is the biggest lesson you have learned? You have to have thick skin to navigate through the hard times. Times aren’t always great. What are we doing wrong? What can we do better? Take a look at the organization as a whole. How can you do better to navigate through the harder times to get to the better times? Surround yourself with the right people, employees and management. Always have a big network of colleagues you can trade information with. Any words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs? Stick with your dreams. Often people will try to talk you out of it or tell you it’s not a good idea, that there’s too much competition. That’s what separates entrepreneurs – they follow their dreams and know how to pick themselves up when things aren’t looking too good. No. 3 Landmark Network Inc. North Hollywood A valuation management company that offers appraisals and other services. Founded: 2007 Revenue Growth: 364 percent 2012 Revenue: $7.5 million Question: Where did you get the idea for your company? Answer: (Founder and CEO Erik Richard) In my prior position we utilized the same type of company in our supply chain, but the relationship was a complete failure. Once I understood the reasons why it wasn’t working, I decided to launch my own venture. Where did you get your initial financing? I thought my idea was brilliant and unique, and certain people would see the value in it and invest, but they didn’t. Other than a few thousand dollars from friends and family, the company grew organically. We still operate the same way today by reinvesting profits when needed and we don’t carry any debt. What was your biggest challenge when starting your company? Financing. Growing from scratch is hard. I still remember standing in the office supply store debating on how many pads of paper to buy and what type of pens I could get away with using. What was your big break? There are actually two that stand out. My prior employer was acquired and many of the people left to pursue opportunities at other companies. Given my past experience working with many of those people, they were willing to take a chance and work with me and many of those companies still do business with us today. Second, the regulatory landscape shifted dramatically following the housing collapse, which gave birth to the Home Valuation Code of Conduct in 2009. How has Landmark kept up its growth recently? We have built a solid brand focused on offering best-in-class customer service and cutting-edge technology that outperforms our competitors. What are your growth plans? I couldn’t be prouder of the team we have built. We will continue doing what we are doing because it’s working and of course look for acquisition opportunities to expedite our growth when possible. What is the biggest lesson you have learned? I say it every chance I can get, “Never burn a bridge.” I do business with people today that I never thought I would see again, let alone make money from. Any words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs? Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you and make sure someone is doing the things you don’t want to do. No. 4 Arvixe Calabasas Provides web hosting for small businesses, enterprises and personal websites. Founded: 2003 Revenue Growth: 200 percent 2012 Revenue: $7.8 million Question: Where did you get the idea for your company? Answer: (Founder and operations manager Arvand Sabetian) I started designing websites for businesses back in high school and the natural progression was to host them. Where did you get your initial financing? Self-financed. With the $20 to $50 per month reseller accounts available on the market, there was not a large barrier to entry to start offering such services. What was your biggest challenge when starting your company? Finding dedicated talent and trustworthy people to help with decision making and operations of the company as the operation grew. What was your big break? There was really not a single moment that I can call as the big break. However, the big break was probably during the toughest time as we grew very rapidly and had to keep up with the costs and the burdens of the growth. The initial growth spurt began shortly after I graduated from college and concentrated full-time on the company in 2009. How has Arvixe kept up its growth? We’ve done it by catering to every need of web developers who find it hard to work with companies catering to a wide variety of audiences. This includes providing the lowest possible price at the highest possible quality for the constituents that appreciate the value of the product we are offering (developers). What are the future growth plans for your company? By continuing to identify niches to cater to the needs of our largest customer demographic (developers) and to come up with creative partnerships that bring value to all parties involved to dominate the niche in question. What is the biggest lesson you have learned? People are everything. It is easy, even today, to get caught up in the day-to-day operation and briefly overlook the value of the individuals who have been around Arvixe for years and really make this company what it is today. Our staff members are the most important asset that Arvixe possesses. Any words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs? I’ve always tried my best to have at least a high level of knowledge of what my staff is attempting or working on. This allows for a few things that I believe have been key in our growth and evolution during the growth. No. 5 Equis Staffing Calabasas A professional staffing service in the technology, IT, accounting and finance fields. Founded: 2006 Growth Rate: 197 percent 2012 Revenue: $7.9 million Question: Where did you get the idea for your company? Answer: (Founder and President Carrie Nebens) I’ve been in staffing for 25 years. For 12 of those years, I was an executive at a local publicly traded staffing company called On Assignment. It taught me a lot of things. Where did you get your initial financing? I used my own funds and investment from someone who knew the type of work I could do to help fund the company. It took $275,000 to get started. I did not take loans and was able to access a line of credit based on our financial strengths. In staffing you do need a lot of cash to get started. What was your biggest challenge when starting your company? A staffing company is only as good as the staff it has. Finding people who are effective at staffing, finding excellent candidates. It’s easier said than done. It remains a challenge today. Our job is like being a professional matchmaker: We have to read clients well and provide them with what they want. What was your big break? We are a woman-owned company – we get diversity status – that allowed us to have access to larger clients. One in particular has allowed us to have a good basis of business year-over-year to expand. Also, in the economic downtown, we were able to tough through it. How has Equis Staffing kept up its growth? We started out being a specialty provider in finance and accounting. The demand for tech and IT people is really great, especially in the L.A. basin. We expanded into the IT business. It helped fuel our growth because it’s in high demand. What are the growth plans for your company? We have room to expand within our current office. Our current office has room to probably grow two thirds, or 60- to 70-percent max. Then we’ll look to expand geographically, either in the Westside or Orange County. What is the biggest lesson you have learned with your company? You just always have to be on your toes. You have to question what you’re doing, make tough decisions. Get the info you need and act quickly. Any words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs? Business is about executing, about making decisions, acquiring customers. You have to always be working on the edge of chaos – creating things, wanting things to happen in order to have success in what you do. – Compiled by Jacquelinne Mejia

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