The Strangest Billion Dollar Company in the World

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The strangest billion dollar company in the world. This month's Wired magazine includes a long meditation on the awkward brilliance of Craigslist, which, as we've noted before, is a one weird business. Craiglist is an unbelievably ambitious website--with 47 million unique users in the U.S., it has more traffic than Amazon--and yet in many ways the site seems dysfunctional. Estimates peg revenues at $100 million or more, and Wired says that if the company ever sold it'd be worth more than $1 billion, and yet the founder, Craig Newmark, still spends most of his day answering customer emails. The story is worth a read just for the portrait of Newmark in all his socially awkward brilliance. And also for Wired's attempts to makeover the site's iconic design.

Who gets access to traveler's finger prints and iris scans? Business travelers will likely remember Clear, the company who promised to whisk its fee-paying members through airport security lines thanks to a pre-screening process. The company shut down operations in June, which has left it's members, as well as some elected officials, wondering what is to become of the company's database of information, which includes customer fingerprints and iris scans. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Homeland Security committee chairman Bennie Thompson and ranking member Peter King have written a letter to Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano warning that deleting Clear's customer data "could have a potential negative impact" on the government's Registered Traveler program. One company is hoping to step up and fill the void. FLO Corp., a Virginia-based registered traveler company, is hoping that the Transportation Security Administration will allow former Clear members to transfer their information to their database.

You, too, can be a patron of the arts. Much has changed at Kickstarter, a start-up website where artists solicit donations from would-be patrons, since we wrote about it in last year's Get Ahead Guide. For starters, it seems that the site has come around to the idea of vowels, dropping its original Web 2.0 name Kickstartr. And as The New York Times reports today, Kickstarter is now well off the ground, having helped artists and inventors raise $400,000 for nearly 400 ideas. Supporters don't get tax deductions for their contributions, but they can get a bowl of homemade gumbo.

Four years after Katrina, a rebirth of entrepreneurship in New Orleans. The Wall Street Journal has a piece about how tax breaks and a sense of mission are driving entrepreneurship--and the young folks who do it so well--back to New Orleans four years after Katrina. One of the companies they profile is iSeatz, an Inc. 500 winner whose CEO moved back in January 2008 after riding out Katrina on the roof of a high-rise building. iSeatz has saved about $200,000 on the 6 percent wage rebate on payroll by bringing a dozen out-of-state employees back to the Big Easy. Entrepreneur magazine had a longer profile on the same subject, including iSeatz, in their August issue. We first blogged about the resurgence of entrepreneurship (and again, iSeatz, as well as companies like Lia Molly--one of our 2008 coolest startups, Trumpet, and Idea Village) last October. It's exciting to watch the city, which is still rebuilding its infrastructure, use small companies to facilitate its rebirth.

State funding drying up for small business development centers. At a time when their resources are needed the most, California's Small Business Development Centers are combatting significant cuts in state funding, the Los Angeles Times reports today. These centers, which offer loans, counseling, and other perks to small businesses, rely on state monies to help raise the matching funds necessary to qualify for federal grants. But with a 32 percent budget cut, "centers are scrambling to make up the reduction by boosting fundraising efforts targeting local banks, corporations, cities and counties."

Private rocket companies get love from Uncle Sam. Aerospace entrepreneurs have complained for years about the NASA's no-expenses-spared approach to getting spaceships into orbit. Two Inc. Entrepreneurs of the Year have raised this issue--Burt Rutan, the rocket designer behind the space tourism startup Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk, whose company, SpaceX, develops low cost rockets. Although NASA has been quietly moving towards taking a more commercial approach for some time--Musk's company was awarded a contract in 2006 as part of an experimental program within the space agency--it seems like the issue has finally caught the attention of the Obama administration. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is " is leaning toward outsourcing major components of its space program, such as ferrying cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station." The Journal says the move should save money, and Business Insider says it should be a boon to the entire space industry.

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Last updated: Aug 25, 2009




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