Can Brad Pitt Save an Independent Studio?
BY Max Chafkin
A reprieve for the Weinsteins? Most movie studio heads would have been popping bubbly over the opening of Inglorious Basterds this weekend. (The Quentin Tarantino-directed epic took in more than $37 million, with moviegoers in New York sneaking into sold-out showings and sitting in the aisles.) And maybe Bob and Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. co-owns the movie, were doing just that. But as the Wall Street Journal reports, Tarantino's latest hit might not be enough to save one of Hollywood's last independent studios from financial ruin.
Gold Rush 2.0. In our July/August issue, we brought you the story of Randy Garrett, CEO of Mainline Contracting, who spends his spare time panning for gold in the rivers of North Carolina. Turns out, Garrett was ahead of the curve. The Washington Post reports that California is seeing a surge of unemployed people foregoing the "Help Wanted" ads in exchange for the chance to strike it rich as modern-day gold prospectors. With gold prices nearing $1,000 per troy ounce, the highest they have been in more than two decades, maybe it is time to pack up the covered wagon and head west.
Would you like some marketing with that latte? Today's Wall Street Journal has a story on a new way Japanese companies are trying to break through the advertising clutter: The marketing cafe. It's like a normal cafe, but customers also get to sample new products and services with their food. For instance, as part of a promotion for a new Toshiba cell phone, Tokyo's Lcafe placed phones on every table. During the month-long campaign, Toshiba logos were displayed on napkins, waiters' uniforms, and menus.
How to gauge customer sentiment online. A new field, called "sentiment analysis," aims to explain consumer behavior on the Web. That could be a very valuable resource for business of all sizes, the New York Times reports. One of these companies, Scout Labs, offers "a subscription service that allows customers to monitor blogs, news articles, online forums and social networking sites for trends in opinions about products, services, or topics in the news." StubHub, the ticket marketplace, recently used the tool to identify a spike in negative online sentiment after customers were refused refunds following a rain-delayed baseball game. The company is now revisiting its bad weather policy. Don't have the cash to hire one of these firms? Take a look at Kasey Wehrum's June piece on how your business can respond to criticism on Yelp.
The rise of the accidental entrepreneur. Some people are born entrepreneurial; others have it thrust upon them. So it is with so-called "accidental entrepreneurs," people who start their own business as a result of being laid off from a traditional job. The New York Times profiles a few of these people, such as Lisa Marie Grillos, who started a company making bags designed to fit onto bicycles after being let go from her job at Williams-Sonoma. Statistics from the Kauffman Foundation show that new business creation was up in 2008, a recessionary year, over 2007. The data from the foundation suggests that the patterns "provide some early evidence that 'necessity' entrepreneurship is increasing and 'opportunity' entrepreneurship is decreasing.
The sugar trade goes sour. After 30 years of making signature sweets like Chick-O-Sticks and Long Boys, Atkinson Candy in Lufkin, Texas is reincorporating in Guatemala. Sugar accounts for about 60 percent of ingredients used to make Atkinson's products, reports BusinessWeek, and USDA quotas on the amount of sugar that can be imported forced the company to charge twice as much as its foreign competitors in some cases. "If it was only about labor I could still be here--it's the price of sugar that we're having to leave for," says Eric Atkinson, the company's president. Sugar prices are near a 30-year high, and have jumped 96 percent since last October. Larger companies, like Conagra, Hershey's, and General Mills sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack warning that government inaction could result in price hikes for consumers, job cuts, and "distorted" trade patterns in the notoriously volatile sugar market.
The hotel room of the future. Web Worker Daily takes gripes about hotels one step further and imagines the ideal hotel room for the 21st century worker. Instead of a couple of outlets behind the nightstand, Nancy Nally suggests four outlets, spaced to accommodate transformers, near the desk, as well as on top of the nightstand for charging items like cellphones. She also calls for a monitor on the room's desk for road warriors who get tired of squinting at their laptops, a notebook-sized safe, and TV inputs for watching movies or practicing presentations. What do you think? Could business hotels use a tech upgrade?
How to structure a term sheet. We wrote last week about the importance of keeping things simple when it comes to term sheets. Now, Adeo Ressi, the guy behind TheFunded.com and the Founder Institute, has published a free, entrepreneur-friendly term sheet. The legal template, which is available for download here, eliminates a number of onerous deal terms that tend to drive legal costs through the roof, says TechCrunch's Michael Arrington. "A term sheet like this can be closed with $10k - $20k in legal fees," he writes. "When you're only raising $1 million, that's a big deal." For smaller deals, Arrington recommends using the legal documents published by Y Combinator.
The best books for entrepreneurs. Over the weekend, Fred Wilson blogged his favorite books for entrepreneurs. They include Atlas Shrugged, The Prince, Shakespeare, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And if you didn't catch it--and are in need of some good beach reading--check out Inc.'s list of the 30 business books every CEO should read.