Inside the Credit Crisis and Life after Google
BY Max Chafkin
How bad is the credit market? Really bad. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera heard again from one of his readers, a man referred to only as Anonymous Banker, who describes a rather grizzly credit scenario for a hypothetical $10 million company. The details are a bit wonky, but the big picture is frightening: for small and medium-sized companies loans aren't just becoming harder to get, credit lines are being withdrawn and banks are requiring that some outstanding loans be paid in full. This is happening, it turns out, to solid businesses that have never missed a payment. Not pretty.
Dodgeball founder tries again. What do you do when you create a cool product, sell it to a giant company, and then watch it struggle as your new bosses ignore what you made. That was the experience of Dodgeball founder Dennis Crowley, whose now-defunct mobile social networking startup allowed bar hoppers to broadcast their whereabouts to friends. The service predated Twitter but never caught on--and Crowley blamed Google, which acquired the company in 2005. His new venture, which he unveiled last night, offers a similar promise and has a similar name: Foursquare. Alley Insider has the details.
The trouble with online advertising. Noah Brier, head of planning and strategy from the Barbarian Group isn't afraid to say it: "Online display advertising sucks." The main problem, as he writes in AdAge, is that display ads need to be aware of where consumers live and what they're reading. "At least it should know what site it's on and what people are there for. I mean, we spend a lot of time thinking about our consumer, right? . . . However, we give little or no thought to what they're actually doing once they get there. What content are they looking at? What's the difference between home-page visitors and lower-level visitors?" The reason those questions aren't considered, says Brier, is that the math gets done early on—everybody picks 3 sites that fit that IAB guidelines. But without knowing where the display is sitting, the focus of the creative is out of context, forgoing the web's biggest advantage: its ability to cheaply reach smaller groups with targeted messages. To fix the problem, Brier recommends more versions of ads and custom ones for larger sites. Making an ad look like it belongs on the page is another way to avoid "banner blindness." (via AllThingsD)
Local governments try their own stimulus packages. The Wall Street Journal has a front page story that chronicles the efforts of local governments to help businesses and workers. The story focuses on a town in Texas that, despite a predominately conservative city council, is creating a miniature version of the old WPA. Meanwhile other towns are making their own efforts to jump start growth. Lancaster, California, for instance, is offering $30 gift cards to anyone who spends $300 at local businesses and paying vehicle registration fees for anyone who buys a car locally. And New York City is spending $15 to try to turn laid off investment bankers into startup investors.
Chinese manufacturing struggles, gets cheaper Chinese exports dropped a whopping 17.5 percent in January, Bloomberg reports. Some 20,000 small and medium-sized companies in China's Guandong province have closed since October. As this New York Times piece suggests, Chinese manufacturing has become a lot less expensive: "Producer prices were 4.5 percent lower last month than a year earlier, after having shown annual increases of as much as 10 percent as recently as last summer."
You think your company has it tough? In the Middle East, Global Hosted Operating System, a tech startup, faces a challenge as big as the global financial slump. Their employees are separated by the West Bank barrier separating Israel and Gaza. CNN reports that the company's Israeli CEO can't visit his headquarters in the West Bank. The company's flagship product is a virtual desktop for web-based applications. "I thought, 'Maybe I can combine my business interest with my ambition to do something for peace and to help create jobs for Palestinians," said founder Zvi Schreiber.
One smart cookie. How to boost sales during a recession? Eight year old Wild Freeborn had a rather sensible answer: YouTube. Within two weeks, she had more than 700 online orders in her North Carolina neighborhood. But the Girl Scouts of the USA, receiving complaints from other parents who suggested that Freeborn's business practices were anti-competitive, ordered the scout to take down her video and go back to old fashioned cold calling. Newsweek reports on the story (with Freeborn's video, "Buy cookies! And they're yummy!") here.
Advice for tough times. When your business's growth stalls, don't guilt-trip yourself. That's what Business Week columnist Steve McKee urges in this excerpt from his new book, When Growth Stalls. Instead of focusing on who caused problems—especially those caused by external circumstances—concentrate on what you can do to solve them. For more tips on how to tune-up your company during trying times, check out Inc.'s feature from our January/February issue, with tips from the founders of Whole Foods, Intuit, and Cisco.