Big Easy Entrepreneurs and Turning Buzz Into Bucks
BY Kasey Wehrum
Entrepreneurs help to revive The Big Easy. Four years after Hurricane Katrina flooded nearly 80% of New Orleans, the historic city is in the midst of a resurgence thanks, in no small part, to the growing number of entrepreneurs who have chosen to start their businesses in the Crescent City. As The Atlantic reports, in addition to the numerous opportunities created by ongoing reconstruction projects, New Orleans has also seen a boom in the number of entrepreneurial clusters taking root in the city. The Times-Picayune counted at least five significant "entrepreneurial hubs" that were recently established in New Orleans. Taking a page out of the Silicon Valley playbook, these entrepreneurial hubs bring innovators together to help foster collaboration and encourage the flow of ideas. For a closer look at how one New Orleans entrepreneur got his business going after Hurricane Katrina, check out this How I Did It.
A New Wi-Fi company takes to the skies. A battle is brewing between Aircell, the airline Wi-Fi company that is currently providing in-flight Internet access to Virgin America and AirTran, and the California-based start-up Row44, reports the NY Times. John Guidon, CEO of Row44, said the company plans to outfit 500 to 1,000 planes worldwide by the end of 2010. Aircell is predicted to have its service installed on 1,000 domestic planes by the end of this year - a full year ahead of the newbie - so why should it be concerned? Row44's proposed contract with Southwest Airlines and the up-and-coming business' cheaper prices per flight could make things a little rocky for Aircell. Inc. explored the pros and cons of airline Wi-Fi earlier this year.
Entrepreneurial alchemy: turning buzz into loyalty. The Wall Street Journal looks into small companies that have successfully met the challenge of turning fans of their buzzworthy products into loyal customers--and there are plenty of Inc. 500 companies--and even one Inc. cover story--on their list. In the recession, crowd-sourcing t-shirt company Threadless is tweeting gift codes and tickets to music festivals (we saw a long line outside their booth at the Pitchfork Music Festival this past weekend) as well as using Facebook to upload videos and give away products. Other companies, like Dogswell, a natural pet treats maker and no. 101 on last year's Inc. 500 list, are telling their story to the national media. In Dogswell's case, that meant getting the world's oldest dog, who was able to walk because of the company's vitamins and supplements, on the Today show. Specialty headphone manufacturer Skullcandy is trying to back away from free samples to the skate and snowboard crowd by giving other freebies--such as spray-painting its logo on fans at surf events--instead. Check out Max Chafkin's cover story on Threadless, the company that churns out dozens of new items a month with no advertising, no designers, no salesforce, and no retail distribution--and never produced a flop. Or read more about how Skullcandy (no. 31 on last year's Inc. 500 list) keeps the guys on the mountain bikes engaged, when its products have crossed over to the guys who sit behind a desk.
Cuban accuses Perot Jr. of "trying to find nickels in the sofa cushion." Less than a week after a federal judge dismissed the SEC's lawsuit against him, controversial Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban finds himself at the center of another high-profile lawsuit. This time, it's a suit filed by a company controlled by the team's former owner, Ross Perot Jr., according to The Associated Press. Perot Jr. owns a small interest in the limited partnership that owns the Mavericks arena and claims that Cuban has used $29 million in the partnership's funds to make unauthorized loans to the Mavericks. Cuban has responded saying that his attorneys "had been open with Perot about the loans."
Plastic Logic gets another deal. Plastic Logic, the startup e-book manufacturer that is aiming to challenge Amazon.com's Kindle, seems to be setting itself up well for its launch next year. The company has struck a deal with Amazon's book-selling rival, Barnes & Noble, which will run the company's e-book store, according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal. The article notes that the startup has also struck deals with the Financial Times and USA Today newspapers, and that it is pursuing an ambitious strategy for manufacturing the device. Unlike most startups, Plastic Logic will not outsource its initial production run, and is instead building its own factory in Germany. If you can't wait for that to happen, check out Inc.'s reviews of the other top e-book readers in the current issue.
The start-up stock market. A new crop of online markets are letting investors get a piece of the hottest private companies without having to wait for an IPO. As USA Today reports, services such as SharesPost, SecondMarket and XChange are providing an alternate route to interested investors. The secondary marketplaces also give entrepreneurs a chance to sell off some shares in order to raise capital. "There's a market for owners who want to diversify and (investors) who just want to speculate," one industry analyst says. Of course, there are a few catches, such as restrictions on who can buy in, lofty fees, and less financial information than would be provided by a publicly-traded company.
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.