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5 Game-Changing Startups to Watch

Some startups seem destined to create big winners and big losers. Here are five of them.
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A game changer is a startup that clobbers business as usual. A game changer forces existing businesses and business models to either adapt or wither away. A game changer means that a few people get rich and lot of other people lose their jobs.

Here are five startups that, in my view, will literally (not figuratively) change the world--at least the world of business as we know it today:

1. Simple

Simple will change the way people interact with banks and other financial institutions. Today, dealing with banks and credit card companies is a nightmare of fine print, unexplained fees, and Quicken, an application with so much feature-creep that it's almost impossible to use.

With Simple, you get a Visa card, no surprise fees, and some cool budgeting and savings tools that you can access on a browser or an app running under iOS or Android. For example, if you want to save for something, like a trip, it puts the money aside automatically.

  • The winners: Regular folk like you and me
  • The losers: Financial institutions and software providers that have made a pig's breakfast of what ought to be easy: keeping track of your money

2. Rooster

A hundred and fifty years ago, the most popular form of fiction was the serialized novel. People around the world waited anxiously every month, for example, for the next segment of Charles Dickens's latest masterpiece.

Rooster revives that format by delivering segments of novels to people's handheld devices, so that they experience the story unfolding over time. But that's not the game-changing part, IMHO.

What I find exciting about the concept is that it breaks out of the limiting concept that an e-book is just the electronic equivalent of a hardcopy book. It's as different a concept from the printed page as social networking is from email.

  • The winners: Fiction authors and readers
  • The losers: Traditional publishers who are still limited in their thinking about what books are all about

3. TuneIn

At every moment of every day, there are literally tens of thousands of radio stations around the world broadcasting music, talk, and news. Most of them stream the Web or are available after the fact as podcasts. If you could only find them...

TuneIn aggregates thousands of radio stations into a single interface so that you always have something interesting to listen to. Rather than keeping you in the same ruts (the way Pandora does), TuneIn plugs you into the world at large.

What's game changing about TuneIn is that broadcast radio depends largely upon local advertising to pay the bills. By globalizing radio, TuneIn forces radio stations to completely rethink how they'll sell advertising.

  • The winners: Radio listeners
  • The losers: Radio stations that can't adapt their business model to accommodate a worldwide market

4. oDesk

There are other sites that help you find freelance workers and clerical help, but oDesk makes it absurdly easy, so easy in fact that it's almost scary.

For example, when I needed a bunch of snail mail addresses inside a bunch of emails converted into a spreadsheet, it took me exactly five seconds to locate a very intelligent and helpful worker--a woman in Egypt who was willing to do it for far less than I would have paid for a local worker, if I could have even found one willing to take on such a short-term project.

This is a game changer because now it's completely trivial to find hundreds of people willing to work, all of them competing on price. For clerical workers, indeed for office workers in general, this means your work is now worth at most three or four dollars an hour. If that.

  • The winners: Business owners
  • The losers: Office workers who don't have the savvy to differentiate and brand themselves

5. Canva

Guy Kawasaki's new project Canva takes one of the most difficult creative jobs in the business world--graphic design--and makes it about as complicated as a child's computer game.

In the past, if I needed to create, say, an arresting print ad, I'd have to hire a graphic designer. With Canva, it literally took me less than two minutes to create something that was better than some of the work I've seen come out of high-priced design houses.

Though Canva can be misused to create some truly hideous stuff, Canva can help you understand what's good design and what's not. As such, it's a direct game-changing attack on the graphic arts business.

  • The winners: Marketers
  • The losers: Graphic designers who aren't so fabulous that they're in wild demand

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Last updated: May 27, 2014

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




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