How do you beat founding San Diego's fastest-growing private company?
By Larry M. Edwards
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December, 1987: Larry Imperiale, the twenty-something president and chief executive officer of start-up SalePoint Systems Corp., worries that he can't meet his next payroll. The possibility looms that his new company will crash and burn.
October 1992: SalePoint makes No. 19 on Inc. magazine's 1992 list of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. It's the fastest growing company in San Diego, with a 7,000% growth in revenue based on $110,000 in sales in 1987, and $7.8 million in 1991. The company also made more than $1 million in profit in 1991.
SalePoint's rapid rise is a classical entrepreneurial tale. An enthusiastic young man, rich in ideas but with an empty wallet, opens a company in his spare bedroom. Seemingly insurmountable hurdles block the path to profits, but he wins because he refuses to call it quits.
"I'm a competitor. Whatever I do, I try to be the best at it," Imperiale says.
That much he's known about himself for most of his life. But the past five whirlwind years have taught him a great deal more.
"When you're bootstrapping a company, you get great lessons in how to survive," he says. At times, I had regrets about even starting the business. I questioned my ability to succeed. But I discovered my own strengths and weaknesses. I found that when I really believed in something, I was a good salesman."
And sell he did. An 11th-hour commitment from theme park operator Busch Entertainment Corp. allowed him to meet that 1987 payroll, and he never looked back.
Imperiale believed he had the proverbial better mousetrap for specialty retail chain store operators: the STARS retail point-of-sale system developed by Techpoint, Inc. in Livonia, Mich. The product, packaged with IBM hardware, was making in-roads in the East, but had no west coast distribution. Finishing his master's program at San Diego State University, Imperiale decided to become a STARS distributor.
With investments from his family and Alan Grant, his mentor from San Diego State University, plus liberal use of his credit cards, Imperiale set up shop in his spare bedroom, founding SalePoint in May 1987. To maintain credibility with his first client, McDonnell Douglas' employee stores, he steered business meetings to the local IBM office. It wasn't until the deal was signed that he opened a real office, he says.
In the heady months that followed, SalePoint added Williams-Sonoma, PETCO, The Nature Company, Universal Studios, The Sharper Image, and the California State University campus stores to its client base.
"Larry did it all himself; he has a lot of drive," said Grant, past SalePoint chairman of the board and now a lecturer at Babson College. "He has a classic entrepreneurial personality. He doesn't give up, he's persistent."
"Larry is an entrepreneur par excellence. I don't know if I would have had the intestinal fortitude to keep going like he did," said Roger Oakes, one of SalePoint's first employees.