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Notable Features Through the Years

Inc. magazine editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan gazes back at the past 15 years of editorial content and walks us through the highlights.

I joined Inc. magazine in early 1997, shortly after the birth of Inc.com. Back then Web sites were still undergoing the transformation from novelty to necessity, and ours was notable for, among other things, being a digital rendering and amplification of the print publication. To those of us in edit, Inc.com was where our stories found eternal life and enduring utility for new generations of readers.

In the 15 year since, the site has grown into its early potential and beyond. Today it is a vibrant amalgam of original news, views, and multimedia. But like a fraternal twin, it still shares much of the magazine's genetic material, including Inc.'s articles dating back to the 1980s. Those online archives are well worth a dip—or a full-brain submersion—for anyone interested in the evolution and practice of entrepreneurship.

Since Inc.com and I came on-board at roughly the same time, the website’s editors asked me to compile a list of some of my favorite articles dating back to 1996. There were many tough choices: virtually my entire education in entrepreneurship is represented on the site. And while professionally I appreciate the often-elegant demystifications of business that showcase Inc.'s brain at work, personally I’m a sucker for the tales of guts, grief, and glory that are its heart.

I selected two-dozen articles—and listed then chronologically—but could easily have added two dozen more. So take the map and don the headphones. And when you're done with the tour, I invite you to explore the vast galleries on your own.

Are We Making Money Yet?

This is one of two articles that made me want to work for Inc. in the first place. Back in 1996 I was an editor at another business magazine, reading everything I could about activity-based costing (ABC) in order to make sense of a reporter's incoherent story on the subject. This case study of the Diamond Courier Service not only brought ABC into laser-sharp focus for me; it did so in human terms.

Therapist to the New Economy

Here’s the other article that brought me to Inc. I loved the idea of taking a critical look at “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” phenomenon through the lens of its most obsessive followers. In a perverse way, this piece is what got me interested in the subject of corporate culture.

How to Get Rich in America

This was among the earliest and smartest articles on “venture design,” an arrangement whereby service companies forgo fees in exchange for equity in a client’s company or project. It was prescient in anticipating a generation of endlessly innovative and mutable (if not always sage) business models and approaches to risk.

The Anti-Heroes Guide to the New Economy

Inc. celebrates the vision and audacity of entrepreneurs who create something out of nothing. Doug Mellinger, among the most visionary and audacious of that breed, created a whole country for his software business--on a tropical island no less. This is one of those Larger-Than-Life stories from the tech boom that leave you awestruck and, in retrospect, a little motion sick.

"I'm John Burgess. I'm Here to Help You."

This fascinating investigative piece about the business practices of a controversial management-consulting firm is also a colorful profile of its leader. It starts off with former president George H.W. Bush's appearance at a company Christmas party and concludes with the tale of a prostitute in a boardroom. 'Nuff said.

The Pursuit of Happiness

One reason entrepreneurship is so attractive is the promise—some would call it a myth—that company founders possess the almost unique ability to design their own lives. This is one of our earliest and best explorations of that theme and a critical read for anyone interested in work-life balance.

The Declaration of Independents

The potential power and influence of small businesses banding together in alliances, cooperatives, networks and coalitions was—and still is—a great, untold business story. As soloists surge and startups grow smaller in a down economy, this smart look at the mechanics and implications of the trend feels even more urgent than when we first published it.

The Work-at-Home Diaries

Ten years ago, work-at-home offers jammed spam filters. Most of us trashed them without a second look. But in the backs of our minds, we couldn’t help but wonder: is it really possible to make that much stuffing envelopes? One of our intrepid reporters went undercover in his own house to answer that question with persistence and wit.

Patent No. 5.524, 641: An Inventor's Story

Stories about unexpected success are dramatic and legion. Stories about unexpected disappointment—unless they lead to later success—are rare, but likely more typical of most lives. This is a sweet, sad saga of courage, commitment, and possibly self-delusion that should be read by every workshop tinkerer. 

The Coolest Small Company in America

This profile of the now iconic Zingerman’s Deli ultimately spawned Small Giants, Bo Burlingham’s enormously influential movement championing companies that choose to be great instead of big. The innovative philosophy, strategy and culture of Zingerman’s received their first big national exposure here. 

The Heart of a Company

Most entrepreneurs harbor personal reasons for starting their businesses. But few have reasons so deeply-felt and devastating as Kenny Kramm, who launched a company solely so he could support his severely disabled daughter. This is entrepreneurship at its most poignant and heroic.

If at First You Don't Succeed

Hillary Johnson's chronicle of her father's roller-coaster career is at once a study of entrepreneurial pathology, a meditation on the futile beauty of dreams, and a reminder of the toll company-building takes on children and families. Johnson is a novelist, but she couldn’t have invented a character more vivid than her perpetually inventive dad.

The Offer

In 11 columns over two years our own entrepreneurial impresario, Norm Brodsky, chronicled the sale of his company. The columns, narrated with Norm’s trademark blend of candor and exasperation, offered hordes of readers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on high-stakes-high-emotion deal-making. My personal favorite was this June column, in which the deal imploded.

The Coolest Little Startup In America

In the last decade, the under-30 crowd has staked out a growing presence in our pages. Tom Szaky embodies the energy, irreverence, and no-bounds creativity of great young entrepreneurs in great young companies. If you want to understand the next generation and how it thinks about everything from environmentalism to bootstrapping, start with this profile.

Confessions of an Entrepreneur's Wife

Inc. has published many failure stories over the years, but few so moving and dramatic as this one. The author’s husband launches a carbonated juice-drink company, propelling his family up to and finally over the brink. Read this if you’re thinking about starting a company and don’t want your loved ones to become collateral damage.

Is Dave Insane? Inside a Brand Makeover

The business press treats branding as a chiefly artificial exercise for eliciting desirable customer responses. No one except Inc. talks about what brands mean to the entrepreneurs who dream them up. This article is both a savvy analysis of marketing manipulation and a reminder of the profound relationship that exists between product and creator.

Entrepreneur of the Year: Elon Musk

This profile of the founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors acts almost as a window onto the landscape of innovation and as an implicit critique of the incremental approach to progress beneath which many entrepreneurs chafe. This is not a tale of the triumph of heart, but rather of the greatness of ambition.

Revitalizing the American Dream

A manifesto, of sorts, that limns the crucial contribution of startups to our economic health—chiefly as our most prolific creators of jobs. This package, a must-read for anyone who cares about getting the country back on track, lays out a 16-point action plan that ranges from encouraging manufacturing to shifting entrepreneurship training out of business schools to making it easier to register startups.

You've Been Yelped

Not just a profile of a popular user-review site—though it’s that too—this article is a compelling piece of sociological fieldwork into the love-hate relationship between small businesses and Yelp, the self-anointed arbiter of their fates. You can almost hear the scales of reputation-control tipping.

On the Road with a Supersalesman

Volumes have been written about sales, but the best way to learn is to observe a true master at work. You’ll come away from this profile of John Deal (who sells nuclear power plants, of all things) with insights into strategy, technique, and psychology. The key takeaway: it’s not just what you know about your product. It’s how you feel about your product.

The Art and Business of Motivational Speaking

The entrepreneurial world is full of quirky little subcultures, and motivational speaking may be among the quirkiest. Who makes a living at this? The answer is more people than you would think. For the many, many more who would if they could, this article explains how.

The Way I Work: Michael Arrington of TechCrunch

One of Inc.'s most popular recurring features is The Way I Work, in which an entrepreneur discourses on his routine, his productivity tricks, and his preoccupations. This account by Michael Arrington practically shudders with the CEO's intensity. His competitiveness, his (literal) work-until-I-drop ethic, and his (surprising) self-knowledge etch a powerful portrait of the entrepreneur-as-obsessive.

How Great Entrepreneurs Think

Entrepreneurial psychology is a subject of endless fascination to our readers. This article, based on groundbreaking research by a professor at the Darden School of Business, identified powerful differences between the minds of company founders and corporate executives. Scores of readers responded, saying, "Yes. This is me."

In Norway, Start-Ups Say Ja to Socialism

With this article, Inc. staked out its turf in global business coverage. We’d written about international entrepreneurs before, of course. But the Norway feature combines curiosity about other cultures, markets, and economies with a deep understanding of business universals and an appreciation for how entrepreneurs think about challenges—in this case sky-high taxes.

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Last updated: Aug 1, 2011

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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