Scare tactics, phantom laptops, and Andy Grove's plans for Intel
BY Max Chafkin
Fear Factor. Fortune polls prescient thinkers like NYU's Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini and Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Meredith Whitney—one of the first to warm that the big banks were in danger—to get their predictions for the state of economy in 2009. What does the good doctor see in his crystal ball? "There's no going back, and there's no bottom to it." Just in case, you wanted to feel a little worse.
Andy Grove has just one word for Intel.Batteries! The company's 72 year old founder, who retired in 2005, "is urging the chief executive, Paul Otelli, to steer the company into battery production as a way to diversify business as well as fill a strategic niche as automakers shift to production of plug-in electric vehicles," according to today's Wall Street Journal. The suggestion makes some sense: there are no major U.S. manufacturers building the next generation of car battery and Intel has plenty of cash on hand, $12 billion.
How Coby beat a viral rumor. When "news" broke last week that Coby Electronics was poised to release a $99.95 computer in time for Christmas, the tech blogosphere went crazy. But, as AdAge.com reports, the story was a hoax, leaving Coby with a public relations quandary. How to tell enthusiastic customers that the highly anticipated product did not exist? First, the company issued an internal statement. Next, Coby's PR firm started calling tech blogs to ask them to take their posts down. The story was contained, but the idea of a $100 laptop may not have been so crazy after all. Acer announced earlier this week that it would offer a so-called "netbook" computer for $99.99 a Radio Shack stores. (But you have to buy a $60 a month Internet plan.)
The allure of the going out of business sale. When your competitor around the block goes out of business, that's a good thing, right? Not if you're in retail. When stores close up for good they typically hire a liquidation specialist to try to unload inventory and draw in bargain-concsious shoppers. "In a vicious cycle, the 'everything must go' banners and ads are siphoning off shoppers from already struggling retailers, further weakening their results," according to the Wall Street Journal's Ann Zimmerman. It's been happening a lot lately, as stores like Circuit City, Linens 'n Things, and, most recently, KB Toys go under. Adding insult to injury, the sales aren't always really sales. In the early weeks of the Linens 'n Things closeout sale, prices were slightly higher than before. And Circuit City has seen sales spike despite some price increases. A 42 inch TV is 30 percent off right now, but that's still $100 more than it cost several weeks ago. LAST CHANCE, ACT NOW!
FCC vote could make or break startup. The Federal Communications Commission will decide next week on a plan to offer free (and pornography free) wireless internet access for most of the U.S. If approved the likely beneficiary is M2Z Networks a Silicon Valley startup backed by heavyweight VC Kleiner Perkins. But Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOm is skeptical, citing high costs and slow speeds. And so is the .
Big media finally gets something right. When News Corp. and NBC announced a joint venture to form an online video site called, laughably it seemed, Hulu, TV fans and techies groaned. After all YouTube was pretty good already and was the clear market leader. Not so fast, reports The Big Money: "Hulu is coming up fast on YouTube's flank," logging in impressive 24 million users last month with an average viewing time of 12 minutes. Do you part—and revel in budget jokes—by checking out this instant classic from The Office.
A new model for startup creation. James Siminoff has a proposal for how to fund startups in a tough economy: "I would buy a hotel that is about to go bankrupt (there are a lot of these right now) in the bay area. I would then create in that building a fully self contained incubator; food, shelter, office, Internet, etc. You could then take the young, creative, smart entrepreneurs that have been blocked from funding and put them in your fully contained incubator for them to build their businesses." Although the provocative title of the post is "Y Combinator is Dead," Siminoff's proposal actually has a lot in common with Y Combinator, the Cambridge-based incubator that Ryan McCarthy wrote about here.
Where to get seed funding. If you're interested in other sources of seed funding, check out this roundup from ReadWriteWeb, and, of course, Inc.'s guide to angel investors.
Weekend reading. Check out our feature in this month's print magazine (also available here!) on the "Education of an Educated CEO." It's holiday appropriate—who doesn't enjoy mixed nuts in December—and it'll make you smarter.
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Last updated: Dec 12, 2008
Senior contributing writer MAX CHAFKIN has profiled companies such as Yelp, Zappos, Twitter,
Threadless, and Tesla for the magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @chafkin