Generating sales doesn’t have to be boring.
In fact, some of the fastest-growing private companies in America are reaping success by tapping into niche industries, or inventing entirely new ways to make money. Take iHeartDogs.com as an example. The Anaheim, California-based website, which ranks No. 135 on this year’s Inc. 5000, sells pet products and pup-themed clothing, such as T-shirts proclaiming: “I Love Big Mutts and I Cannot Lie.”
Collectively, the following companies–which specialize in everything from extreme racing to lingerie–notched more than $136 million in 2016 sales, but the founders would tell you that the bottom line is incidental. In the words of an iHeartDogs shirt: “Money can buy a lot of things. But it can’t wiggle its butt every time you come in the door.” Here are the most innovative business models of the 2017 Inc. 5000:
1. Banking on Burning Man
Orion Melehan does things differently. As co-founder and CEO at Santa Cruz, California-based LIFEAID Beverage Company,part of his job involves traveling to music festivals–most recently, he attended a concert in Bend, Oregon, celebrating the solar eclipse–to peddle his products. LIFEAID develops sports and energy drinks that are popular among Millennials, especially at Burning Man. It ranks No. 227 on the 2017 Inc. 5000, and booked $12.8 million in revenue last year.
2. Hipster Haven
Reverb.com made the prescient bet that music enthusiasts would want a place to buy, sell, and discover vintage gear. The Chicago-based business, which ranks No. 18 on Inc.‘s list of the fastest-growing private companies in America, offers deals on items such as chrome-over-bass snare drums and troubadour tube amps. Last year, it generated nearly $16 million in revenue.
3. Wine Tasting With J.Law
If you thought that charitable giving was dead, don’t tell it to Omaze. The Los Angeles-based website operates as an online auction, offering customers the chance to have “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences with celebrities from Ben Stiller to Jennifer Lawrence and Idris Elba in exchange for a small donation to various charities. Via the site, customers from more than 170 countries have donated to more than 150 organizations, with Omaze taking a cut. It ranks No. 112 on the Inc. 5000.
4. Aviation Nation
Based in Ocala, Florida, MzeroA.com offers online flight training courses to pilots. It also sells aviation e-books and gear–because, as the founders put it, “a good pilot is always learning.” The business, which ranks No. 230 on the Inc. 5000, booked $2.1 million in revenue last year.
5. Game of Thrones Fan Theories
On the way to Westeros, White Walkers may be marching in the shape of House Stark’s sigil, which is the direwolf. That could indicate that Brandon Stark is actually the Night King, at least according to one Game of Thrones fan theory, recently published on the website Fan Fest. The company, which generates revenue primarily through advertising, is a convention and entertainment hub focused on fan festivals for comic book characters, as well as zombie and horror genres. It ranks No. 232 on the Inc. 5000, and last year alone, it brought in $11.1 million in revenue. That’s a lot of White Walkers, indeed.
6. Taking Craps
At least one company is generating major sales on American casino culture. Casino Cash Trac, which provides software for casinos to manage their gaming and accounting operations, brought in $3.5 million in revenue last year. Based in Tulsa, it ranks No. 247 on the 2017 Inc. 5000.
7. Brews for Bros
Craft breweries may be in vogue, but there are other ways to make money off of beer: Just take it from Greg Avola and Tim Mather, the founders of Untappd. Their Wilmington, North Carolina, business brought in $3 million in revenue last year, via its social-networking app that sells tools and promotional items to beer purveyors, helping them connect to enthusiasts. It ranks No. 259 on Inc.‘s list.
8. Sustainable Underpants
Beechwood, a genus of deciduous trees native to Europe and North America, may be commonly found in furniture, but it also makes for a soft fabric. MeUndies uses this material to develop underwear, which it then sells via a monthly subscription service. Based in Culver City, California, the business raked in $32.6 million last year, landing on the Inc. 5000at No. 276.
9. Road Rage
If you’ve ever wanted to coast down the interstate in a Lamborghini, but lacked the funds to do so, this business can help. Xtreme Xperience rents out luxury vehicles to customers who want to test-drive them on professional racetracks, starting at $99 (not including insurance). The Chicago company made Inc.‘s list at No. 2985 in 2017, booking $5.8 million in sales last year.
10. Arcade Fire
Working hard doesn’t preclude having fun–lots of fun. That’s according to Robert Thompson, the founder and CEO of Punch Bowl Social, a chain of bar-restaurants across the country that house arcade games, fluorescent lighting, and karaoke machines. Customers can also book the space for private events, as needed. Based in Denver, Punch Bowl Social brought in $36 million in revenue last year, landing on the Inc. 5000list at No. 1195.