Andreessen's next big thing(s). "The man who popularized the Web browser," -- as The New York Times describes Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen today -- is hoping to influence other new technologies through a venture capital firm he's launching called Andreessen Horowitz. Andreessen (who also founded Opsware and Ning) and his partner, Ben Horowitz, have raised $300 million, The Times reports, and will focus on investing rather small amounts, as little as $50,000, in young tech start-ups. "Andreessen Horowitz will be testing a theory of investing....that smaller funds making smaller investments in very young companies will yield higher returns," The Times says. Over at TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy explains how Andreessen Horowitz will distinguish itself from most other VC firms. "Like Founders Fund and unlike most everyone else, Andreessen and Horowitz are more comfortable investing when an entrepreneur wants to stay the CEO," Lacy writes. "Hiring a 'grown up' CEO always sounds like a great idea, but almost always hastens a company's failure, Andreessen argues."
States looking for new ways to tax online retailers. Cash-strapped states looking to collect sales taxes are considering new laws, or revisions to existing ones, that would force e-tailers to pay up, reports the Wall Street Journal. North Carolina is one of the states contemplating going after companies with marketing affiliates to get sales taxes. Sen. Hoyle, who thinks that current laws can be read to force retroactive sales tax, predicts sales tax from out-of-state sellers could bring in up to $200 million more annually. Texas is looking into whether Amazon can be taxed through an in-state subsidiary that handles distribution. A spokesperson from Amazon, which is based in Seattle, told the Journal, "We don't want to shoulder the unconstitutional burden of collection in states where we lack a physical presence." This comes on the heels of recent legislation passed in New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Hawaii, that would force companies to collect sales tax if they have in-state online marketing affiliates. In response, Amazon, Overstock, and the like threaten to drop affiliates in some states, which caused states like Hawaii and California to back off so as not to punish local businesses. The trade group Performance Marketing Alliance says that there are 200,000 affiliate marketers in the U.S. that represent $14 billion in sales annually. But since affiliates only drive between 8 and 20 percent of sales for e-commerce sites, they can be dropped without significant consequence. The idea of collecting sales taxes through affiliates came out of former NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2008/2009 budget. At the time, Overstock responded by pulling its affiliate business in New York.
The Kiva backlash. Less than a month has passed since Kiva.org opened its micro-lending platform to U.S. entrepreneurs and already more than 400 members are unhappy, TechCrunch reports. A lending team entitled Unhappy Kiva Lenders was created a week after the announcement claiming that "Kiva shifted from making loans exclusively where the needs are greatest, to where they are the least." Kiva CEO Premal Shah, for his part, says that even before the current financial crisis, more than 10 million U.S. business owners waged a losing battle to obtain capital. Inc. reporter Tamara Schweitzer thinks what's really important is the growing popularity of microfinance.
Brewing up business with McDonald's. As McDonald's takes aim at Starbucks with its new line of high-end coffee drinks, dubbed McCafe, the Chicago Tribune takes an interesting look at the small coffee roaster who has been tapped to be the burger giant's main bean supplier. Tyler, Texas-based Distant Lands struggled long and hard over the decision to become Ronald's lead espresso supplier, but eventually decided that the benefits outweighed any potential drawbacks. Among those drawbacks is adapting to McDonald's stringent sets of rules for its suppliers. But adapt it did. Prior to landing the new contract, Distant Lands kept quality control records through a green tag pinned to a burlap sack full of coffee beans. Now their system is all handled electronically. Asked whether it was worth the effort, one Distant Lands exec noted, "We got to be an approved supplier to McDonald's, and for a little company like ours, you have no idea how important that is."
The running shoe that isn't. The Tarahumara people of Mexico can run 150 miles in sandals, which sounds crazy unless you are part of the grassroots movement that believes running shoes should de-evolve. "They're not hampered by running shoes," explains Galahad Clark, a seventh generation shoemaker. Inspired by the Tarahumara's "edenistic" approach to running, Clark developed Vivo Barefoot, a line of running and walking shoes that are as back-to-basic as possible while still being considered a shoe (i.e. the puncture-resistant soles are only three millimeters thick). Some are lace-ups, some sport Velcro strips, but all have a shallow height and are described as more of a glorified sock than shoe. Clark believes, counter-intuitively to the athletic industry, that typical running shoes are causing more injuries than they prevent. Vivo's claims are similar to those of Danny Abshire, whose Newton Running line we featured last year.
Bed Bath & Economic Barometer. Time magazine thinks it may have discovered what exactly that whole Beyond business was all about. Although Bed Bath & Beyond has had trouble peddling housewares and hand lotions in an ongoing recession, it recently announced that Wall Street's expectations were slightly pessimistic, citing a 13.5 percent profit increase. If buyers are reopening their wallets to Bed Bath & Beyond, some analysts say, they might be ready to loosen up funds for other discretionary spending and help start the upward climb out of the recession. "The nest is where we'll likely see the early signs of a recovery," says retail analyst Marshal Cohen. Other experts, however, say it isn't that simple. After all, the retailer's largest competitor went out of business, and the encouraging reports could be more of a reflection of decreased competition than of a nation-wide upward trend in spending. As consultant Howard Davidowitz says, "There is no more Linens 'n Things. How can that not have a tremendous impact on Bed Bath & Beyond?"
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