With a growth rate of more than 400 percent between 2013 and 2016, Mike and Melinda Durkee, co-owners of Proforma Durkee, recently landed on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the top 5,000 fastest-growing private businesses in the country. The Huntersville-based marketing resource company, which specializes in commercial printing and promotional products, e-commerce and multimedia services, landed at the No. 1,000 spot. Crain’s Charlotte recently caught up with the husband-and-wife team to talk about how the 5-year old company grew to nearly $6 million in annual sales.
Q: What were your individual career paths before joining forces to establish Proforma Durkee in 2012?
Melinda: I was actually staying at home with my young children at the time. Before that, I worked in different advertising agencies and marketing companies, as well as in radio sales. Mike was looking to sell his business at the time and purchase another business.
When we started, I didn’t realize I had signed on for as much as I had really signed on for. I thought it would be a way to make vacation money. I never thought I wanted to own my own business. I grew up in a family where my parents worked together and ran their own business and I learned a lot from listening to my parents. Now, I’m incredibly grateful.
Mike: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mind. I always dreamed of owning my own business. At 28, I started my first company. I came across an opportunity with a client that I took to my employer, but it wasn’t the right kind of business. I quit my job and started the company and almost went broke doing it. But we went in the black the first year. Being my own boss, doing my own thing, having my own dreams – that’s what drives me.
Q: Why did you establish in the Charlotte area? If someone were considering opening a business in the area, what advice would you give them?
Mike: This is where we were. I started my first business here in Charlotte. We met and got married here. We were looking to start a business locally where we could really be involved in the community. Charlotte has a growing economy. It’s a great place to start a business. You can take advantage regionally of North and South Carolina. There’s a great airport and there’s plenty of entertainment for your clients and your families. I think Charlotte is a great place to live and a great place to start a family.
Melinda: Mike and I have known each other since third grade, and I moved to Charlotte to be with him. I just flew back from Kennedy Airport today. I went there this morning and it was dead, eerily dead. I was surprised. There wasn’t any traffic. I just land in Charlotte this afternoon and it was packed. Charlotte is booming. It’s growing really fast and it’s a really attractive place to start a business.
Q: To what do you attribute such growth in such a short amount of time, with a relatively small staff?
Mike: It’s our partnership. We’re able to divide up branches of our business in a few different ways; one is by our skill sets and another is what segments of the business we enjoy. We can take our abilities and our strategies and think outside the box and just go for it. There’s no doubt about it – we divide and conquer, and try to do so really strategically.
Melinda: Exactly, it’s our partnership, our skill sets, our roles, our strengths. We both think big. I know that some of his strengths, I don’t have. We are smart enough to hire people who have strengths that neither of us have. Our growth has been because of the two of us together, and the team we work with.
Q: What are your goals for yourselves as individuals, as well as the company, in the next five to 10 years?
Mike: I’m going to break all the rules when it comes to setting goals. Contrary to what everyone says you should do, I don’t set goals. I just believe in dreaming big and then going for it. I picture a lifestyle I want – not just a lifestyle at work and professionally – but a lifestyle at home and the way I want to be, and I try to make it happen.
Melinda: I do set goals. I’m a hunter. I have some personal goals of establishing some larger accounts. I have those goals, for sure, that have dollar amounts, and program goals. We have younger kids, so my goals are also to establish some semblance of balance. One of my goals is to become more balanced at home and at work. Another goal involves inspirational and industry speaking. I’d like to do more of speaking and consulting in the future.
Q: What is the biggest challenge of owning and operating your own business?
Melinda: Probably the thing that’s hardest is being married and being business partners. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it and you have to communicate. Mike named our business with our name. I am responsible for this business. My name is on it. It’s reflected in how we operate.
Mike: I think one of the biggest challenges is looking in the mirror and taking responsibility for everything that is happening with you. If you fail, it’s because of you. If you succeed, it’s because of you. And when that happens, nobody is going to pat you on the back. Everything is on your shoulders, and you’re the driving force to make it all succeed.