Sad News for Google's Founders; Senior-Citizen Startups
BY Kasey Wehrum
Trading bingo for small business. Tired of reading about all these pimple-faced whippersnappers starting multi-million-dollar tech companies out of their bedrooms? Business Week takes a refreshing a look at a number of senior entrepreneurs who are by no means ready for the retirement home. Consider 70-year-old Wally Blume, who mortgaged his house in 2000 to start Denali Flavors, a marketing-and-licensing company that creates new ice cream flavors for independent dairies. Besides having a lifetime of experience, the article points out that seniors often have the financial resources and free time which potentially makes them ideal entrepreneurs. With Denali Flavors now generating about $80 million in revenue, Blume can certainly afford to skip the early-bird special.
What happens when you sell to Google. During the mid-aughts, Google went on a buying spree for little software startups. Some of these were so-called HR acquisitions--meaning Google was buying the company to hire the engineers--some of the acquisitions became stand-alone products, and some ended badly. Today the Wall Street Journal checks in with one entrepreneur who sold to Google several years ago and seems to have thrived. Sam Schillace built Writely, an online word processing program in a week in the Summer of 2005, advertised it on Google, and quickly found himself "in the middle of a press and investor/acquirer storm." Schillace sold to Google and his company became the backbone of Google Docs. His advice: "Never start a company just to start it. You start a company because you have an idea that you think will be great for some customer -- and great ideas are always worth doing, even in a tough market."
Google advisor passes away. On a less celebratory Google-related note, a Stanford professor who helped guide Sergey Brin and Larry Page in the years leading up to the launch of the search giant has died at the age of 47, The New York Times and others reported today. Rajeev Motwani, a professor of computer science, was a sounding board for Brin and Page while they studied at Stanford's graduate business school and later became a member of Google's technical advisory council. "I will miss him dearly," Brin wrote in his first blog post since September. "Yet his legacy and personality lives on in the students, projects, and companies he has touched."
No Americans need apply. Yesterday CNBC launched its search for business owners to be featured on its new reality show, "The Good Entrepreneur." The show will pit budding entrepreneurs with green business ideas against each other in a Survivor-style competition.The one left standing will receive financial support, advertising on CNBC, business support from Allianz, and hopefully the allegiance of the profitable eco-chic demographic. Unfortunately, only private companies from across the pond will be considered.
Fewer sales, more pressure. A recent study from research firm CSO Insights shows that small businesses are putting the screws to their sales representatives more than ever before, Business Week reports. Despite an increasingly difficult selling climate, the study shows that 87 percent of small firms have raised their sales quotas this year. One managing director from CSO Insights argues that this is counterproductive, however. In order to avoid employee burnout, employers shouldn't burden sales reps with higher quotas, but should provide them the tools and resources that can naturally help them boost sales.
TechCrunch's loss is Mashable's gain. Social media blog Mashable now gets more unique visitors than TechCrunch, usurping its place as the most popular tech blog, according to new data from Compete and Quantcast reported in the Silicon Alley Insider. How did Mashable's Pete Cashmore edge out TechCrunch's Michael Arrington? The Insider says: solid content, lots of "how-tos," readers that share everything, and near domination on Twitter (besides Tweetmeme, Mashable is the top shared site on Twitter).
Obama's behaviorists save you from yourself. Behavioral economics argues that humans are hard-wired to make bad decisions. Rather than assuming that humans are ultra-rational self-interested actors, behavioral economics says that people could use a "nudge" to make decisions in their own best interest. A number of high-level appointees in the Obama administration are devotees of this theory, advocating programs like one in Greensboro, N.C. that pays teen mothers $1 for every day they're not pregnant, reports NPR. But the psychology behind it is more prevalent than you think. For example, the "anchoring bias" that happens when you see the minimum payment on your credit card bill, only pay that, and the credit card company gets rich on your interest. It's also the reason workplaces automatically enroll you in a retirement plan, to nudge you in the right direction. There's even a new book on the subject, Nudge, co-written by an Obama appointee and a contender for the Nobel Prize. Or check out the New Yorker's take on how Peter Orszag is turning the Office of Management and Budget into a de facto behavioral economics think tank.
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.