Local small businesses find big success

In celebration of San Francisco’s Small Business Week, today The Examiner takes a look at successful small businesses of different sizes. The federal Small Business Administration defines the sector as firms with fewer than 500 employees.

Fewer than 500: Lifemark Group Inc.

The 135-year-old Lifemark Group Inc. chose San Francisco in 2005 as the site of its new retail concept: a funeral store without the funerals.

The shop at 153 Columbus Ave. dispenses with bodies, hearses, chemicals and all the other trappings, according to Director of Marketing Anthony Kan.

Already the owner of six Bay Area funeral homes and four cemeteries, the company didn’t need another full-service shop. Instead, it wanted a bright and cheerful place to purchase caskets, services, cemetery plots and other paraphernalia.

“It’s a different concept. This is the first of its kind in North America,” Kan said.

Lifemark, based in Hayward, employs between 200 and 250 people, including 14 in The City. The company plans future growth, including importing and branding its own urns,caskets and markers from China, which it can do at a discount over American manufacturers.

Fewer than 200: Mindjet Corp.

Mindjet Corp.’s landmark software product, MindManager, was first envisioned in 1994 by co-founder Mike Jetter while he was undergoing treatment for leukemia. Today, the company is based in San Francisco and is celebrating the release of MindManager 7, its newest iteration.

Like its predecessors, MindManager 7 helps businesses and individuals plan projects, organize thoughts and make presentations in an intuitive, graphic format that links to many other business applications.

The company employs 167 people, including 80 in San Francisco. It sold 275,000 copies of its software in 2006, CEO Scott Raskin said, and it hopes to sell 350,000 more and hit 1.2 million users in 2007.

Fewer than 100: Innovative Entertainment

Peter Berliner’s company literally works behind the scenes, booking entertainment acts ranging from solo pianists to comedians and singers for huge corporate events or private parties.

It also exclusively represents a handful of acts, including “Beach Blanket Babylon.”

Innovative originally booked acts for fairs and festivals. But in the 1990s, Berliner realized there was a big market for corporate events, producer Damon Guidry said. The company timed that decision just right, benefiting from the run-up to the dot-com boom, though it did shrink staff after that ended.

Today, the firm does 300 to 400 events annually. It employs five full-time employees and recently added a part-timer, Guidry said.

Just one: Big Kitten LLC

Open-source software programmer David Schleef is his own company.

“I’ve been an independent contractor for just about four years,” he said. “There was work available, and it was a convenient time for me to leave my job, so I just did.”

Schleef, 34, averages two projects at a time, and is presently writing software to compress and decompress online video for the British Broadcasting Corp.

He enjoys the flexibility but said the downside is dealing with invoicing and other business chores.

He’s also discovered that networking at conferences is more valuable than traditional marketing, he said.

“For the most part, I learned it’s all about who you know,” he said.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

businessBusiness & Real Estate

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