The Joy of Hardware

Former Inc. Technology editor David H. Freedman introduces our new series, America's Best Hometown Businesses, this month with his article on legendary Harvey's Hardware, in Needham, Mass. He was clearly the right person for the job. I mean, how many journalists are there who'd actually enjoy hanging out in a hardware store, discussing the fine points of programmable thermostats and swiveling drain-spout extenders?

Don Burr, the founder of People Express Airlines, was the one who first turned me on to Freedman, more than 10 years ago. While lamenting the general state of business journalism, Burr noted that one interviewer had impressed him, a young writer for CIO magazine named David Freedman. Eight years later I finally met Freedman in person--and hired him on the spot. Since then, he has guided Inc. Technology and played a major role in launching our Web site, Inc. Online. He also cowrote a book with Charles C. Mann, titled At Large: The Strange Case of the World's Biggest Internet Invasion, to be published this summer by Simon and Schuster. We'll miss his editorial prowess around here as he returns to the freelance life. The upside is that we'll get to see more of his writing.

Harvey's Hardware, by the way, is also the favorite hometown business of Michael Treacy, coauthor of The Discipline of Market Leaders. In fact, he's one of those who first alerted us to the retailing phenomenon.

Slam-Dunking AOL
If you look at nothing else in this issue, check out the illustration accompanying Nancy K. Austin's searing commentary on America Online, whose general behavior, she thinks, has much in common with that of Dennis Rodman. While the piece is provocative in its own right, the illustration takes provocation to a whole new level. It's a classic example of what an art director can do when given an opportunity to let her fiendish imagination run wild.

In this instance, the imagination belongs to Laura McFadden, who has been Inc.'s art director for the past year. Previously, Laura served as the magazine's assistant art director for three years, and she worked for seven years in our creative-services department. She clearly likes working here. Her only wish, she says, is that she could bring her dog, Pluto, to the office more than one day a week. Pluto is a one-year-old vizsla, or Hungarian pointer, whose behavior is considerably better than Rodman's. Too bad he doesn't work at America Online.

Heaven Can Wait
The main lesson we can draw from Norm Brodsky's article on angel investing is that you should be clear about what you want to get out of a deal before you put your money into it. Among those who would be wise to heed his advice are the successful entrepreneurs who have been investing their newly earned riches in professional sports franchises lately. As finance editor Jill Andresky Fraser makes clear in her column this month, earning a reasonable return on investment is not one of the expectations you should bring to such a deal. Getting a lot of ego gratification may be, however.


Contributors

  • David H. Freedman, who loves hardware and technology, writes about legendary Harvey's Hardware.
  • Nancy K. Austin, who loves hedgehogs and good manners, lets us know how she feels about AOL.
  • Laura McFadden, who loves her dog, Pluto, shows what would happen if you crossed AOL's Steve Case with, say, Dennis Rodman.
  • Jill Andresky Fraser, who loves finance, looks at the appeal, and the risks, of investing in sports franchises.