The most exciting entrepreneurs don’t just make money. They provoke competitors and disrupt industries, too. From a racy online clothier to a controversial TV service, here are five companies that got our attention in 2012--and face a pivotal year in 2013.
When it debuted, Square’s sleek plastic credit card swiper drew jealous looks to any iPhone it was attached to. Now Jack Dorsey has bet again that style wins mobile payments customers. In October the company followed a $200 million venture round by acquiring New York design firm 80/20, which specializes in slick user interfaces. Earlier, it partnered with coffee chain Starbucks, further upping the brand’s profile.
In the battle over television distribution, Chet Kanojia continues to defy the major broadcasters--and prevail. In a 2012 lawsuit, networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and others alleged that Aereo’s novel method of beaming broadcast TV signals over the Internet infringed on their copyrights. So far the courts have sided with the New York-based start-up. In February, Aereo secured $20.5 million in venture funding. Stay tuned.
Online fashion’s next big thing may be Sophia Amoruso. Her site Nasty Gal filters new and vintage garments the way travel sites like Kayak pick flights. That trick, paired with Amoruso’s eye for unusual and racy pieces, has earned the fashion site 470,000 Facebook fans, 321,000 followers on Instagram, and 10,160% revenue growth over the past three years.
Like him or not, Oliver Samwer is changing competition online. The self-proclaimed "most aggressive guy on the Internet" creates nearly-identical versions of U.S. sites (Airbnb, GroupOn) and brings them overseas before the original company can. Some start-ups partner with the German entrepreneur, others fight. But in 2013, any successful web entrepreneur will have to reckon with him.
From coast to coast, L.A. to Chicago, Travis Kalanick brought his car hire app to 17 U.S. markets over the past three years. But longtime cabbies are calling Uber an uncouth operator: In lawsuits filed in San Francisco and Boston, they say the on-demand service unfairly skirts city regulations. New York and Dallas taxi commissions have complained too. On Dec. 4, Uber announced it had reached a deal with the Washington D.C. City council that gives the company freedom to operate there with local drivers--a sign that in 2013 regulators will give Uber license to live.
-- Burt Helm