gap intelligence turned fourteen years old today. We’re stronger than ever, we’re getting an attitude of confidence, and we still like boy bands.  The great part is that our best days are still very much ahead of us. Our anniversary inspired me to dig around the office for gap artifacts and reflect on fourteen years of business. I found an old doodle pad that contains some Cro-Magnon like sketches of logos when gap was just an idea.  At the time, I saw gap intelligence’s branding being a guide that could help you navigate a “stream”.  Those bumps in the “stream” are not dolphin fins, but stepping stones.

Often times when we look back, we focus on our mistakes and how we could have avoided them or derive what we learned from them.  “Errors are treasures” at gap intelligence because mistakes allow us to get better at our craft, but for our birthday this year, I am inspired to write about what went right for us.  I have asked my friends at Price Waterhouse Cooper to present to you the six things that went right for gap intelligence on its way to become a teenager:

1) We Have Great Friends

“It takes a village to raise a child” and it takes a city to start a small business.  In the very early days of gap intelligence it was our close band of friends that got us started.  Red Door Interactive not only built our first website on the cheap, but shared its office so that gap intelligence wasn’t just some guy working out of his kitchen.  My buddy Kelly, who is now a short story publisher, created our first data center. Before this guy started one of the country’s best gyms, he was our attorney and literally saved our bacon.  Rosemary was our first business coach, David and Stalwart Communications gave us a voice,  and Nikki drafted our articles of incorporation and still represents us to this day.  There are countless others that should be mentioned.

Our first business card.

It has been our friendships that have kept gap intelligence together and we go out of our way to make sure that the vendors we work with are “Friends of gap”. Thank you all.

2) We Read “Good to Great”

In those early days of starting a business, when cash is king and you just want to make payroll, a company will say “yes” to any opportunity that presents itself.  From 2003 to 2008, if a printing company suggested that we could make money by taste testing ink samples, I would have done it.  As a result, gap intelligence attempted every type of research possible from focus groups to product design testing. We were a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

Good to Great book cover.
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Published in 2001, Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” is the gold standard for business building.  The book’s primary philosophy is the “Hedgehog Concept”, which asks the business to focus on the one practice that it’s the best in the world at.  The exercise of finding your “Hedgehog” radically simplifies your business and allows leadership to focus on only the most important things.  In-and-Out Burger makes “burgers, fries, and shakes”.  Disneyland is “the happiest place on Earth” and gap intelligence “provides timely and accurate industry vitals in actionable solutions”.

In its simplest form, gap intelligence’s “Hedgehog” is to make Great Freaking Data (GFD) and bring it to life.  By focusing only on our Hedgehog, we have created a system that provides the best data in the industry – hands down.  We also have the smartest, most passionate analysts that bring that data to life.  I’ll take the Pepsi Challenge with anyone.

3) We Put Culture First

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, perhaps the pioneers of conscious capitalism, was the first company that I wanted gap intelligence to emulate. In time we fell in love with other companies including The Container Store, Zappos, and Google for their willingness to put people ahead of profit. 

gap intelligence’s greatest asset is our people and though we are small in numbers, we are mighty big in our work. Our culture and our people allowed us to prosper during the 2008 economic downturn.  We have seen technologies, companies, and whole industries come and go these past fourteen years and we gappers have weathered the storm.

We are led by our core values: Ownership, Transparency, Willingness, Passion, and Professionalism.  We hire new gappers based on those values and we hold ourselves accountable to them. We are passionate about each other and building a high-five culture.  We are passionate about our work and being an extension of our clients’ own teams.  We are also passionate about San Diego and realize that business plays a central role in giving back to our community. We have our own University, MBA program, book club, athletic department, charitable outreach team, and we even have our own conference called gapCon. 

Hockey gappy holiday card group shot.

Culture comes first. Period. By investing more in gappers, our people will  get us through the next recession and push us to new heights.

4) We Made it Ourselves

We greatly admired Steve Jobs’ passion for his products and his obsession for simplicity in design.  The Apple founder’s relentless passion drove him to insist that everything Apple produced was made in-house – software, hardware, infrastructure, everything.  While this ultimately proved to be a fantastic business decision for Apple, Jobs’ motivation was really to have control over every detail.

gap intelligence is obsessed over data.  We have an intense focus to produce timely, accurate, and comprehensive data every single day of every single week.  We love to get granular. Ultimately, we realized that no other company knew the methodology or built the systems to deliver data that met our standards.  We had to build it ourselves.

gap intelligence’s small army of data collectors use a smartphone application built by gap intelligence to collect pricing, promotions, and snap pictures of products on the shelf.  We built our own web crawler to monitor online reseller activity.  All of those millions of data points get sent to a gapper-built internal quality control system and database (GFDB).  We built our own API (gAPI) and front end dashboard.  We created our own email generator that distributes our market intelligence reports and built another mobile app to let you view those reports on your phone.

gap intelligence Dashboard

We are so obsessed with “gapifying” any task that we even built our own professional goals creator that allows us to create, manage, and fulfill personal and professional goals.

By building it ourselves, we are in control of our own destiny.  We have the ability to grow and scale on our terms and without sacrificing our precious GFD.

5) We Paid For it Ourselves

In a world of seed funding, angel investors, private equity, incubators, venture capitalists, and burn rates, we are proud to say that we have done it “the old fashioned way”.  We have built only what we could pay for ourselves.  We haven’t lost sleep over loans, put profit over people due to demanding board investors, or been pressured to grow the business at the sacrifice of quality.  We are 100% bootstrapped and damn proud of it.

gap intellgence's Step and Repeat.

We were born on March 1, 2003 and have made more mistakes, bad decisions, and wrong turns than any other teeanager on Earth.  We survived those mistakes, a global economic meltdown, and the consolidation of industries because of the things we did right. We got our friends right, our people right, and found the right GFD to be obsessed over. 

Friends, gappers, and GFD – that’s what will get us through the next fourteen.

6) We Didn’t Use That “Stream Logo” Idea

This really goes without saying, but should be stressed in this kind of recap.