When the 1979 Revolution forced the Irvani family to leave their home country of Iran and abandon their family shoe business, they found themselves starting over in the historic shoemaking city of Buford, Georgia. After establishing himself in the community, Bahman Irvani relaunched the family shoe business, building a 100,000-square-foot shoe factory. That shoe factory eventually became Okabashi Brands, a footwear company that produces colorful, molded flip flops and sandals designed for foot health. Refusing to follow the trend of manufacturers moving operations overseas in the ’90s, Okabashi is proud to be part of the 1% of shoe companies that still produce their footwear in the U.S. “My family chose to keep the business in the U.S. because we saw a lot of opportunity here,” said Sara Irvani, who took over Okabashi from her father in 2017. “There was a firm commitment made to our products and our community — and we are here to stay.”
Since the early 2000s, Okabashi has used the web to share its shoes with the world. “The web has helped us tell our story and find audiences that our retail channels don’t capture,” Sara said. Okabashi runs Google Shopping campaigns to sell its footwear to consumers searching for sandals or similar products. “It’s great when you can see people searching for ‘made in USA’ footwear,” said Sara. “Now we can serve them a shopping ad, and they can purchase affordable, American-made shoes.” Sara and her team also use Google Analytics to monitor web traffic and Google My Business to field reviews from customers. “Google products allow us to look at the level of website activity and really see what people are responding to, which impacts our product development and sales strategy,” said Sara. “Getting that feedback helps us better understand our customer, which is invaluable.”
Thanks in part to its loyal customer base, Okabashi has sold over 35 million pairs of shoes to date. The company is committed to sustainability, using recycled, American-made materials to reduce environmental waste. “Customers can send any of their old Okabashi shoes to our factory, we’ll recycle them, and they’ll get a 15% discount off their next pair,” Sara said. Okabashi also partners with nonprofit organizations to provide shoes for those in need and better the lives of footwear employees. “We’re a family company. We have fathers and daughters and husbands and wives who work together,” said Sara. “Those relationships are one of the most important things to us, and we never want to let them down.”
Jonathan Hartley’s parents founded Carousel Designs in 1988, manufacturing and selling baby bedding to other retailers. As the cut and sew industry moved overseas, Jonathan realized that the family business would need to innovate in order to stay competitive. “We needed to create a high-quality brand, where we could justify a price point that would allow us to continue making our products in the U.S.,” he says. “We also needed to go direct-to-consumer to save on margins.” After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Jonathan approached his friend and former classmate, Allan Sicat, with a business proposal. “Let's transform Carousel Designs and take it to the masses. Let's offer it up to the entire country," he said. The two bought the company in 2007. Leah Sicat, Allan’s wife and fellow West Point graduate, signed on a few years later to help take their digital marketing to the next level.
Carousel Designs now offers thousands of custom nursery decor options, as well as pre-designed bedding collections, to consumers across the U.S. and Canada. Their website features an interactive tool that lets expectant parents design and visualize their own unique nursery. And AdWords, Google’s advertising program, “allows us to connect with customers in various parts of the buying process, from when they first learn about our products to when they make their purchase,” explains Jonathan. “It plays an integral role in the buying cycle.” The team also uses Google Analytics every day to better understand their online traffic, improve web content, and optimize ad campaigns. “We realized the importance of having e-commerce and mobile components early on, and made it a priority to build a strong online presence,” Allan says.
When Jonathan and Allan purchased Carousel Designs, “business was on the decline,” Jonathan recalls. “We were down to four employees.” Today they have around 70, most of whom are Douglas County natives. “It’s something we’re very proud of,” Allan adds, “not only being made in the USA, but also being able to create these opportunities right here in Douglasville.” To date, the company has served over a million customers, and they support a nonprofit that throws baby showers for military families. “The secret to our success is innovation,” says Leah. “Don’t stay the same, keep innovating, and give customers what they want. When you do all those things and experience growth, then you’ll be able to create jobs and give back to the communities that are important to you.”
Paul Judge and Allen Nance founded TechSquare Labs in 2014 with a specific goal in mind: to capture the energy of the blossoming Atlanta technology sector and help cultivate it into one of the world's best. With a 25,000-square-foot space for entrepreneurs near Georgia Tech's campus and one of the most active venture capital funds in the state, TechSquare Labs is making that future a reality. "We believe Georgia Tech is a special place. Research being done there is going to change people's lives and build big businesses," Allen says. "We want to be the first investor in every one of those companies." To help dream up the technology of tomorrow, TechSquare Labs relies on the technology of today.
TechSquare Labs proudly partners with Google for Entrepreneurs for access to shared workspaces in over 20 cities. "It gave us a global footprint with physical facilities and resources. It effectively turned TechSquare Labs into a global business overnight," says Allen. They also use AdWords, Google's advertising program, to spike interest in their own business-to-business activities as well as those of their ventures. With G Suite tools like Gmail and Docs, they’re able to collaborate instantly with anyone in the world, right from their doorstep. "Google has been an enormous part of the acceleration of our business model," says Allen. “With Google, we went from having two investments in the first year to 10 investments in the second year.”
Allen and TechSquare Labs are making their vision of a vibrant tech-centric Atlanta a reality, and the whole city is benefitting. The 15 businesses they’ve invested in have created over 500 jobs in the state of Georgia. In 2017, TechSquare Labs plans to continue creating jobs by supporting 10 more ventures. Their local focus also helps keep talented engineers in the area. "Those people rent apartments, buy houses, go out to dinner, make donations, and pay taxes, all right here in Atlanta," Allen says. "It just shows the impact we're having. Technology is the future, and businesses like TechSquare Labs are building it.”
approx 500 employees in Atlanta
When MailChimp launched in 2001, email itself was fairly new to the public and email marketing was in its infancy. So MailChimp has grown up alongside the Internet, starting as an email service provider for small businesses and evolving into what VP of Marketing Tom Klein calls a “broad marketing platform.” With their own creative approach to marketing, which ranges from sponsoring podcasts like Serial to sending customers chimp-themed socks and placing artful billboards in cities around the globe, MailChimp has created a beloved brand. In their hometown of Atlanta, Tom says, they’re known as a company where “technology and marketing come together.”
MailChimp uses Google tools to promote their business and to support the services they offer to customers. The marketing department uses AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to target specific audiences and to help people find MailChimp on the web. They use Google Analytics to study user behavior and help their customers “learn more about what happens after the email is sent,” says Tom. Google Analytics also helps his team measure the efficacy of creative partnerships and sponsorships by analyzing subsequent search volume for MailChimp.
The company saw “a really big uptick” in sales in 2015, and 60% of their business today comes from outside the U.S. Tom calls AdWords “a powerful tool that helps us reach an international audience.” Balancing the immediate value they get from AdWords with “compelling brand experiences that tell a story,” one of MailChimp’s new focuses is building a strong brand presence on YouTube. “We’re in the process of investing in YouTube. I think the big opportunity there is that customers want and actually enjoy getting help by watching videos,” Tom says. “I’ve got a 13-year-old daughter. And if you ask a 13-year-old how to do anything, they just go to YouTube and look it up.”