Coping with Layoffs, Facebook, and Minimalist Management
BY Max Chafkin
How to cope with a layoff? Start a business, of course! The Consumerist flags this inspirational blog post on Laid off and Looking, by an out of work finance guy who is starting a business: "One thing I've certainly learned is that great ideas really do need to start somewhere. If I don't pull the trigger and take some fliers based on nothing but faith in my own ability, great dreams won't ever be realized. Safe to say, I would never have voluntarily chosen this unenviable state of being unemployed. However here I am, and I might as well make the most of it."
An Investor Predicts a Boom. At his blog EarlyStage VC, Peter Rip, a general partner at Crosslink Capital, suggests that a boom is just around the corner. "True Opportunity appears at the market bottom, not at the top," writes Rip, offering a truism that applies to entrepreneurs as well. "It's times like these that test what you believe in, and I believe in the Business Cycle, Human Creativity, and the stimulative effect of massive Government spending. 2009 and 2010 will be great times to invest to reap the benefits in 2012-2014."
An un-Merry Christmas. But times are tough right now. In December, U.S. small companies lost 281,000 jobs, according to a report from the payroll company ADP (Reuters has the news as well.) Meanwhile, December was a terrible month for retailers, "one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in decades," according to the New York Times. Department stores got killed (Neimen Marcus was down 31 percent) and discounters like J.C Penny were hurt by liquidation sales by bankrupt retailers. How are stores responding? By cutting prices.
New York WiFi Company Shuts Down. It's a bad omen for municipal WiFi, which not too long ago looked like it would become a fixture in most American cities. WiFi Salon had been providing free internet access in ten parts of New York City. Now, the company is kaput, according to GigaOm—done in by a lack of financing. "The New York situation is not unique. Across the country, the aftershocks of the credit crunch are impacting municipal broadband projects," Om Malik writes. "The booming economy allowed cities to garner extra tax revenues, which allowed them to easily raise the bonds to raise funds to spend on various projects — including MuniFi." But all is not lost. WiFi Salon's founder has a new company and there are a number of other promising WiFi startups, including Meraki, which we featured in our October issue.
401(k) loses could lead to retirement plan shakeup. "The stock-market rout has ignited a crisis of confidence for millions of Americans who manage their own retirement savings through 401(k) plans," reports the Wall Street Journal. Once seen as a low-cost replacement to the traditional company pension, the 401(k) has fallen out of favor, and Congress is mulling sweeping changes to how retirement plans are regulated. A proposal: "One such plan called for establishing accounts that would receive annual contributions from the federal government, and would offer a guaranteed, but relatively low, rate of return."
Big Facebook. Though its ability to grow revenues may be somewhat in doubt given the current advertising climate, Mark Zuckerberg's company just keeps getting bigger. Zuckerberg blogs that the site hit 150 million active users for the first time yesterday (the site hit 100 million last summer): "This includes people in every continent—even Antarctica. If Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria." (Hat tip, Alley Insider.)
Think Witness, but with start-ups. The Amish population is surging, and they're turning to entrepreneurialism to help make ends meet, says the New York Times. According to the article, more than half of Amish households earn their living from small businesses. And there may be evidence that Amish start-ups are particularly resilient: "A 2004 Goshen College study reported that the failure rate of Amish businesses is less than 5 percent, compared with a national small-business default rate that is far higher. (According to a federal study, only two-thirds of all small-business start-ups survive the first two years and fewer than half make it to four years.)"
Want an office in Shanghai? You could get a great deal. The latest victim of the global financial contagion is office space in Shanghai. The vacancy rate for A-level commercial buildings jumped from 5 percent at the beginning of 2008 to 15.4 percent by December, reports ChinaStakes.com. In the city's Pudong district, vacancy rates are as high as 50 percent. This is thanks to Shanghai's recent skyscraper boom. Supply outstripped demand by 471,000 sq. meters in 2008 and analysts expect an additional 750,000 sq. meters to go up this year. (via Naked Capitalism)
A company with no titles. Venture Hacks points a blog post about Sun Hydraulics, a $170 million manufacturing company with a minimalist management philosophy: there's no org chart, no job titles, no bonuses or perks, no scheduled meetings, no offices, no goals. Oh and this: "If the peers accept the idea, then 'management' is presumed to accept it--hence the need for very little management. Every employee is simply expected to figure out where they fit in." (Venture Hacks, by the way, is a must read blog for anyone raising money.)
Last updated: Jan 8, 2009
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