Which companies are growing fastest in the Chicago area? Here are 50 on a roll: In our annual feature, which we’ve published since 2007, we identify the companies whose revenues are rapidly outgunning the rest. We start by profiling the top 10 firms to get an idea of what it took to make them grow; the other 40 are presented in list form. This list was produced with accounting firm Plante Moran. Click here to see how it was made. To apply to be on the 2020 list, click here.

What it does: Online marketplace for music gear | 2018 revenue: $36.1 million | 5-year growth: 29,510.9% | Employees: 164 local, 180 total | Profitable: No | Location: Lakeview

Entrepreneurs find inspiration in "pain points"—irritations with things the way they are, that could be better.

David Kalt, who had been drawn to rock as a teenager, continually was irritated buying and selling musical gear on eBay and Craigslist. "The process, discovery and educational experience was limited," he says. Buyers paid full price while sellers had to accept steep discounts.

That frustration led Kalt to launch Reverb, a specialized site geared to musicians and collectors with detailed product descriptions, educational content, a price guide and a sorting mechanism. "By getting as much liquidity as possible, we reduced the bid/ask spread dramatically," Kalt says.

Since its start in 2013, Reverb's revenue has grown to $36.1 million, with a staff of 180 that includes team members in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan and Australia. The company has raised $47 million in several rounds of funding, including investments from Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and country star Brad Paisley.

It's the second time around for Kalt, who had a hit with online brokerage OptionsXpress, launched from an earlier pain point—annoyance with the limitations of online trading platforms.



This time Kalt had a track record, which made it easier to attract capital. Repeat investors include Summit Partners; Rod Levy, executive director at Code Platoon; and Lou Friedmann, executive vice president of marketing at M1 Finance.

"He scaled one business, and that experience lit the path at Reverb," says independent board member Adam DeWitt, chief financial officer at Grubhub, who worked with Kalt at OptionsXpress as vice president of finance and CFO.

Some aspects are proving more difficult—such as recruiting tech talent in a tight labor market. And Reverb won't enjoy the fat margins of OptionsXpress, which reached 60 percent pretax, Kalt says. Margins in the online music business are in the 20 to 30 percent range.

"There's still a big opportunity," DeWitt says. "Kalt's passion for music, his skill at developing products and an unmet market need all come together."

What it does: Group travel and destination weddings | 2018 revenue: $22.6 million | 5-year growth: 20,669.7% | Employees: 49 local, 49 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

Alex Zatvor was working at a marketing company generating leads for a travel agent when he noticed groups asking about bachelor party, alumni reunion and corporate trips. In 2012 he launched online travel agency TravelZap to meet that demand.

"It's hard to book more than seven rooms through an established online travel agent" such as Expedia or Travelocity, he says.

Zatvor soon found the biggest demand in this space was for destination weddings, which have grown to more than half of TravelZap's 2018 revenue of $22.6 million. In 2016 he created a separate brand and web presence, Destify, to handle the travel logistics of a wedding in Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America. Like other online travel agencies, TravelZap earns its fees from hotels and resorts—typically in the range of 10 percent.

The company uses technology to streamline the wedding planning process. Guests book their air and hotel reservations through Destify, and an online dashboard shows the bride the status of every invitation. Events can run up to 400 guests. Some of the largest are Indian weddings, which typically involve a three-day ceremony. For one, "we were prepared to bring in an elephant," Zatvor says, "but the family members changed their minds."

What it does: Cloud-based software provider for risk management | 2018 revenue: $51.2 million | 5-year growth: 9,066.1% | Employees: 96 local, 235 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

Robert Petrie and his co-founders named their risk-management software company after the Japanese art of paper folding. "The idea was that the product would be elegant, simple and functional," says CEO Petrie.

It wasn't an elegant start in 2009. "It was hard to persuade customers to be the first," Petrie says. It took 18 months to hook the first—a manufacturer in Texas—and another six months to line up No. 10. "We overserviced them like crazy—answered every phone call on the first ring," Petrie recalls. "Those customers became our references."

A veteran of insurance giant Marsh, Petrie saw an opportunity to use the cloud and the software-as-a-service distribution model to sell the proprietary product to cities, airports and companies—any organization subject to hazard risk. He and his partners bootstrapped the company and lived off savings. "It was a little scary at some points along the way," he says.

It's scary no longer. A decade later, the company has revenue of $51.2 million, and it operates in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. "We don't have to grow by taking market share from somebody else," Petrie says. "You just have to persuade people you have a useful product."

What it does: Online installment loans |  2018 revenue: $134.2 million | 5-year growth: 9,041.9% | Employees: 306 local, 307 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

The grim reality of the widening wealth gap is that an estimated half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. The Federal Reserve says 40 percent of adults couldn't meet a $400 unexpected expense such as a car repair without borrowing or selling an asset. Seven-year-old OppLoans aims to fill a gap between banks and payday lenders for borrowers with poor credit scores.

"We're the best option when the other guys decline you, and we're much cheaper than the worst option," says CEO Jared Kaplan.

OppLoans was founded by Todd Schwartz, partner in Chicago-based Schwartz Capital Group, whose father, Ted Schwartz, founded call service business APAC, which sold for $470 million in 2011. In the years after the 2008 recession, "capital dried up for folks with imperfect credit," Kaplan says.

The company differentiates itself by offering a higher-value loan—typically $1,500 for 12 months at an annual percentage rate of 100 percent. Payday lenders typically lend $500 in a 30-day window at a 400 percent APR and are notorious for rolling over loans and racking up big interest charges when borrowers are unable to pay.

With a model that includes efficient online marketing and customer service, OppLoans is able to offer lower rates, Kaplan says. Revenue is expected to nearly double to $250 million this year.

What it does: Insurance claims technology | 2018 revenue: $37.3 million | 5-year growth: 5,444.0% | Employees: 255 local, 497 total | Profitable: No | Location: Loop

Snapsheet is moving the world of car damage claims onto the smartphone, one insurance carrier at a time. No more adjusters coming to look at a car wreck. Insurance companies using Snapsheet software enlist the car owner to snap and submit photos of the damage. The technology manages the rest of the process through settlement and payment.

"We're behind the scenes," says founder and CEO Brad Weisberg. "The insured customer thinks he or she is working with the insurance company."

Snapsheet recently raised $29 million in Series E funding led by Tola Capital that will enable it to expand into property and bodily injury insurance. It has raised an overall total of $71 million.

Weisberg started the company in 2010 after experiencing the cumbersome process of collecting three estimates from body shops for a fender bender. The hardest part of the launch was convincing insurance carriers to try the software. "We went to networking events and talked to anyone who would listen," he says. "We were able to build relationships with a few small regional carriers that took a chance on us, and it paid off."

Snapsheet now works with more than 75 clients, including insurance companies and third-party administrators, and has a staff of nearly 500. 


What it does: Lunchtime meal service | 2018 revenue: $123.1 million | 5-year growth: 3,956.7% | Employees: 115 local, 217 total | Profitable: No | Location: Loop

With few restaurants in walking distance, workers at the Chicago River headquarters of Groupon and other startups were starved for lunch options. So when Orazio Buzza launched a service to bring restaurant pop-ups to office buildings, the companies signed up.

"We learned that this could be done easily at a handful of locations," Buzza says. "But it was difficult to scale." It took three years for the company to open its second market—New York.

Fooda offers a two-sided business-to-business marketplace—for companies and building managers that want to offer lunch on-site and for the restaurants that supply it. It took a while to hone the business model and build software that, among other functions, forecasts the volumes that enable restaurants to maximize sales and makes sure they are paid accurately and on time.

The scheduling of several thousand restaurants and 1,500 corporate locations is handled by an algorithm. "It's more than a human could do at this point," Buzza says. The locations receive a monthly schedule—office workers typically see 20 different restaurants in a month. The suppliers offer three to five entrees that are cooked at the restaurant and assembled on-site.

Fooda operates in 22 markets and is opening in new cities every two months. Buzza envisions the company expanding to the largest 50 to 60 U.S. metro areas. It's also adding large employers and multitenant commercial buildings. In Chicago, it supplies Rush University Medical Center, Hyatt and Northern Trust.

What it does: Software for hiring | 2018 revenue: $21.4 million | 5-year growth: 3,333.4% | Employees: 135 local, 182 total | Profitable: No | Location: Near East Side

When Adam Robinson launched his human resources software business in 2010, small businesses were inundated by a flood of candidates. It was in the wake of the recession, and there were 10 times the applicants for every opening. Nine years later, the pendulum has swung, and employers are scrambling to recruit in a tight job market.

"Today you have to retail your jobs directly to the consumer," Robinson says. That involves configuring postings so they show prominently on Google searches. Hireology scours the internet and builds prospect pools for its 6,500 clients that are mostly part of large-network and franchise systems such as car dealerships, home health care systems, gyms and spas.

An alumnus of early dot-com Click Commerce, Robinson launched Hireology by supplying interview guides and selection tools for hiring salespeople. He then designed a system for running the hiring process. "Companies were managing it with email, and it wasn't effective," he says. In 2014 Hireology began to host customer career sites and more recently added onboarding and payroll tracking as well as recruitment.

The company recently closed on $27 million in a Series D round led by Blue Cloud Ventures, bringing its equity financing to $45 million. And it's eyeing new markets in hotels and hospitality, financial services, real estate, property management and heavy equipment.

What it does: Trucking and logistics | 2018 revenue: $54.8 million | 5-year growth: 2,528.0% | Employees: 26 local, 296 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Lake in the Hills

Alex Popovych was trained as a doctor and practiced medicine in his native Ukraine. But his dream was to own a business. He immigrated to the U.S. in 2005 at age 28 and set his sights on business school.

He started in construction, but after 2008 he looked for a field less vulnerable to recession. He was intrigued by the trucking business but needed a commercial driver's license. "Without experience, nobody would hire me," Popovych says. Even after he earned an MBA from DePaul University and had purchased some used trucks, it took a while. "You don't have credibility with shippers, and you don't have credibility with brokers," he says.

Gradually, he mastered the mechanics of the business—controlling finance, hiring reliable drivers and buying better-quality equipment. He built relationships with shippers and brokers and started to make money.

Vista Trans has grown to a fleet of 300 trucks and 350 trailers, and serves the lower 48 states and the 10 Canadian provinces. Company trucks carry groceries, pharmaceuticals and general merchandise (customers include Walmart and Costco), as well as steel and heavy machinery.

The biggest challenge these days: recruiting. "Our culture is about satisfying our main customers, and that's 24/7," Popovych says. "Not many people can do that."

What it does: Retailer of equestrian products | 2018 revenue: $21.4 million | 5-year growth: 1,390.6% | Employees: 4 local, 26 total | Profitable: No | Location: Glenview

After several years of torrid growth, this online retailer of horse-riding equipment and apparel is focusing on profitability. That involves cutting costs, including marketing expenses, seeking cheaper sources for shipping and trimming staff, says founder and CEO Alexander Lans. On the other hand, One Stop Equine Shop has been able to raise prices, improving its gross margin.

And the company is shedding unnecessary inventory it acquired during its growth spurt. "If you're not growing as quickly, you don't need as much," Lans says.

Not that it has saturated its market. The company is expanding into outdoor gear such as hiking boots and apparel. "We're looking to introduce brands in new segments and introduce those brands to people who ride horses," Lans says. It's also developing its own private label.

One Stop Equine Shop sells saddles, bits and stirrups—the gear known as horse tack—as well as riding apparel on its website. Its largest channel is Amazon, where it has developed particular expertise. It also sells gear at pop-up shops at equine shows.

Lans started the company in his dorm at the College of Wooster in Ohio and focused on it full time after completing graduate school in 2012. Entrepreneurship is in the genes. "My mom's father was in retail, and my dad's father was in scrap metal," he says. "That inspired me."

What it does: Software for website product reviews | 2018 revenue: $25.4 million | 5-year growth: 1,285.4% | Employees: 152 local, 161 total | Profitable: No | Location: Loop

Matthew Moog took to the web 13 years ago after his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but he couldn't find relevant information on medical sites even though "thousands of people had been through the same thing," he says. He decided to develop a platform where people could share their experiences.

The result was Viewpoints, an advertising-based site where consumers could rate and review products. The company pivoted in 2014 when it acquired PowerReviews, assumed its name and switched to a software sales model.

PowerReviews provides the software for consumer marketers to host feedback, customized to a client's desired look and feel. Clients number about 1,000, representing $30 billion in online retail sales, and include Ulta Beauty, Ace Hardware and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Company research shows that 3 to 10 percent of consumers will write a review when asked, Moog says. They are particularly enthusiastic about travel, apparel, health and beauty products. "We moderate the content and take out bad language and personal attacks," Moog says. "But we don't restrict comments because they are negative."

Newer services include customer care surveys and recruiting mystery shoppers. Clients based outside the U.S. account for about 20 percent of revenue.

What it does: Engineering design and construction management |
 2018 revenue: $27.4 million |
 5-year growth: 1,199.8% | Employees:161 local, 174 total |
Profitable: Yes | Location:
 Near West Side

What it does: IT services |
 2018 revenue: $18.4 million |
 5-year growth: 948.6% | Employees: 38 local, 90 total |
Profitable: Yes | Location:
 Loop

What it does: Social media engagement and analytics | 
2018 revenue: $78.8 million | 
5-year growth: 860.2% | Employees: 506 local, 511 total | 
Profitable: No | Location: Loop

What it does: Custom software design and development | 2018 revenue: $39 million | 5-year growth:  830.4% | Employees: 60 local, 433 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Near North Side 

What it does: Patient communication software | 2018 revenue: $23.7 million | 5-year growth: 721.0% | Employees: 123 local, 138 total | Profitable: No | Location: Bannockburn 

What it does: Truckload services | 2018 revenue: $84.9 million | 5-year growth: 597.6% | Employees: 124 local, 124 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Darien 

What it does: Retail/hospitality fixture and furniture manufacturing | 2018 revenue: $47.6 million | 5-year growth: 552.6% | Employees: 200 local, 200 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Chicago Heights 

What it does: Restaurant equipment parts distribution and services | 2018 revenue: $534 million | 5-year growth: 542.5% | Employees: 565 local, 1,505 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Addison 

What it does: In-school child care and extracurricular programs | 2018 revenue: $25.2 million | 5-year growth: 523.8% | Employees: 50 local, 750 total | Profitable: No | Location: Evanston 

What it does: LED lighting product manufacturing | 2018 revenue: $57.9 million | 5-year growth: 520.6% | Employees: 29 local, 52 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Cary 

What it does: Event management and production | 2018 revenue: $36.1 million | 5-year growth: 515.3% | Employees: 275 local, 275 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Near South Side

What it does: Technology consulting | 2018 revenue: $89.8 million | 5-year growth: 477.1% | Employees: 123 local, 167 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

What it does: Logistics services | 2018 revenue: $39.7 million | 5-year growth: 459.6% | Employees: 50 local, 50 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Near North Side

What it does: Scrap metal recycling | 2018 revenue: $83.5 million | 5-year growth: 446.7% | Employees: 82 local, 82 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Forest View 

What it does: Pipefitting and welding services | 2018 revenue: $36.1 million | 5-year growth: 436.8% | Employees: 266 local, 266 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Manhattan

What it does: Financial services | 2018 revenue: $141.9 million | 5-year growth: 401.9% | Employees: 313 local, 346 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Oak Brook

What it does: Cloud-based payroll and HR management software | 2018 revenue: $377.5 million | 5-year growth: 388.4% | Employees: 865 local, 2,783 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Schaumburg

What it does: Industrial real estate | 2018 revenue: $186.8 million | 5-year growth: 376.9% | Employees: 32 local, 65 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Lyons

What it does: Design-build contracting | 2018 revenue: $284.5 million | 5-year growth: 353.1% | Employees: 39 local, 83 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Itasca

What it does: Commercial real estate | 2018 revenue: $30.5 million | 5-year growth: 341.1% | Employees: 51 local, 51 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Near North Side

What it does: Scrap metal recycling | 2018 revenue: $53.7 million | 5-year growth: 334.4% | Employees: 48 local, 48 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Lombard

What it does: Marking, scanning and printing technologies | 2018 revenue: $4.22 billion | 5-year growth: 306.4% | Employees: 1,700 local, 7,400 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Lincolnshire

What it does: Management consulting | 2018 revenue: $51.7 million | 5-year growth: 304.7% | Employees: 159 local, 200 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

What it does: Commercial real estate | 2018 revenue: $16.32 billion | 5-year growth: 265.8% | Employees: 3,400 local, 90,000 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop   

What it does: Investment management | 2018 revenue: $812.4 million | 5-year growth: 234.9% | Employees: 197 local, 3,920 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

What it does: Digital strategy and analytics | 2018 revenue: $45.8 million | 5-year growth: 228.9% | Employees: 119 local, 342 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: North Center

What it does: Waste management | 2018 revenue: $213.5 million | 5-year growth: 224.2% | Employees: 900 local, 900 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Morton Grove

What it does: Industrial electrical contractor | 2018 revenue: $67.8 million | 5-year growth: 217.1% | Employees: 200 local, 267 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Elgin

What it does: Carpentry and millwork installation | 2018 revenue: $47.3 million | 5-year growth: 217.1% | Employees: 199 local, 199 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop 

What it does: Design and construction, specializing in commercial | 2018 revenue: $405.4 million | 5-year growth: 216.0% | Employees: 176 local, 176 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Downers Grove 

What it does: Managed IT services | 2018 revenue: $114.6 million | 5-year growth: 212.2% | Employees: 402 local, 551 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Lake Forest

What it does: Wine-forward restaurant chain | 2018 revenue: $282.3 million | 5-year growth: 208.7% | Employees: 890 local, 2,629 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Downers Grove

What it does: Safety and security system design and management | 2018 revenue: $990.6 million | 5-year growth: 201.6% | Employees: 165 local, 4,112 total | Profitable:  Yes | Location: Schaumburg

What it does: Risk management consulting | 2018 revenue: $20.3 million | 5-year growth: 199.5% | Employees: 39 local, 62 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

What it does: IT and document management services | 2018 revenue: $61.8 million | 5-year growth: 195.8% | Employees: 258 local, 258 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Tinley Park 

What it does: Professional staffing for accounting, finance and IT | 2018 revenue: $32.8 million | 5-year growth: 183.1% | Employees: 73 local, 86 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Loop

What it does: Masonry and concrete restoration | 2018 revenue: $24.9 million | 5-year growth: 181.5% | Employees: 131 local, 131 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Jefferson Park

What it does: Transportation logistics | 2018 revenue: $37.6 million | 5-year growth: 181.4% | Employees: 32 local, 39 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Lemont

What it does: Parcel shipping carrier | 2018 revenue: $117.6 million | 5-year growth: 181.2% | Employees: 50 local, 60 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Glendale Heights

What it does: Packaging supply sales |  2018 revenue: $57.5 million | 5-year growth: 177.3% | Employees: 64 local, 100 total | Profitable: Yes | Location: Addison

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