We found a 5-year-old startup that's profitable and generating tens of millions -- and it didn't burn gobs of cash to get there

When Movable Ink CEO Vivek Sharma first met his cofounder, he could go months without seeing another startup entrepreneur in New York City.

“Doing a startup here was unusual,” he says. “Foursquare and Etsy did carry the torch a little.”

Five years after Sharma started Movable Ink in 2010, he’s still a bit unusual, even though there’s a bumper crop of startup founders in New York. That’s because he has carefully built a profitable company, refusing to fall into the cycle of raising easy money and then torching it.

Movable Ink, which creates emails that can be updated in real-time after they are sent, has been profitable since the first quarter of 2015, and boasts an annual run rate of $US20 million, a 90% increase over last year.

Contrast this picture with the end of 2011, when Movable Ink was a team of just five people, and was generating $US2,000 annually.

Sharma credits Movable Ink’s five-year rise to profitability to a combination of prudent money management (the company has only raised $US12.3 million total, which is relatively small compared to the hundreds of millions other startups have raised), and explosive growth led by a refocusing of the company in 2012.

“At first we thought startups were going to be easy to sell to,” Sharma says. “But small companies weren’t the best place to be. They were very fickle.” When starting out, companies often have the tendency to take the path that is easier, Sharma says, and Movable Ink’s team thought it would be faster to close deals with smaller companies.

But it didn’t stick.

At the end of 2011, with only a couple hundred dollars in revenue per month, Sharma told himself if things didn’t turn around in a few months, he would find himself a “real job.” It was the fourth startup Sharma had been a part of, and he didn’t want to see another one fail.

Then Movable Ink struck a deal for a pilot program with EA for $US6,000, and then a $US72,000 deal with DirecTV. “We decided not to waste time with the smaller companies,” he says.

“We felt something change in the business,” he recalls. “It was like something was dragging it forward. We had $US12,000 in revenue one year and $US860,000 the next.” If you are selling in the wrong market, it can lead to disaster, Sharma says. Movable Ink just needed to find the right fit for its email marketing product.

But even with this explosive growth, Sharma was careful about how he spent money, and especially how he hired.”It’s easy to get into a trap when you’ve raised a lot of capital and are hiring people too quickly. At some point, you are just looking for bodies.”

Vivek Sharma and Michael Nutt97018CEO Vivek Sharma.

One of the reasons Movable Ink was able to find success with big companies was because, in Sharma’s words, most email marketing departments function like they’re in the 50s.

“There’s lots of planning that can take you months.” Movable Ink is different. It creates a dynamic way for companies to fill their emails with content that changes depending on context.

And right now, Sharma’s goal is to bring that to more and more customers. Movable Ink has added over 90 new clients in the first three quarters of 2015 (bringing the total to over 300 enterprise clients).

But Sharma says he’s still completely focused on email, which he thinks has staying power, even as tools like Slack gain popularity.

“Email isn’t owned by anyone, like Facebook or Twitter,” he says. “Anyone can build a product.”

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