Twitter Gets GM's Attention; Second Life Lives Again
BY Kasey Wehrum
GM bows to the power of Twitter. Hard to believe that the once powerful auto giant would ever listen to feedback from a bunch of microbloggers, but that is the world we live in now. Car blog Jalopnik reports that the execs at Buick halted production on a planned plug-in hybrid electric crossover due to the razzing it took at the hands of Twitter users. The car, which bore a resemblance to the Saturn Vue, was christened the "Vue-ick" by one Twitter user and the name spread like wildfire. A GM spokesman confirmed that the car was killed due to "the overwhelmingly negative response to this vehicle coming out of this event." There does seem to be a bright spot in all of this. While it is troubling that GM is still having trouble building cars people actually like, at least they have learned to value the opinions of their would-be customers.
Is Whole Foods CEO John Mackey crazy? Yes, writes Mark Grimein in The Big Money, crazy like a fox. The Whole Foods CEO inserted himself into the health care debate last week in the Wall Street Journal with an essay arguing that the government should not provide health care and that everyone should just eat more vegetables. Though Mackey has made no secret of his unusual brand of libertarianism, Gimein (and pretty much everyone else in the media) is shocked that Mackey would say this. "[I]t seems almost calculated to turn off every possible ally," Gimein writes. But he adds that Mackey, by being willing to take on his liberal customers while at the same time preaching blue state eating habits has done a service to the health care debate: "With his earnest hope that we can all live to 90 by eating better and his toe-curling philosophizing about rights, Mackey manages to bracket some of the most extreme views on health care, and show both sides just how unappealing and impractical they are." (Via Hacker News.)
Y Combinator Startups Show their Stuff. Y Combinator moves fast. When we were putting together our story on founder Paul Graham, which appeared in June, the investment fund was just selecting its next round of two dozen fledgling companies. Yesterday, those companies were pushed out of the nest at Y Combinator's Demo Day. Techcrunch has a round up here. Companies that launched included Bump, an iPhone application that lets you exchange contact information by touching phones; FanChatter, a company that allows stadiums to display fan comments on the Jumbotron; and DailyBooth, a popular service that allows people to share pictures of themselves with their friends.
A second life for Second Life. Linden Research's virtual world Second Life has never quite lived up to the hype that surrounded it when Philip Rosedale launched it in 2003, but it is slowly becoming a choice setting for some companies looking to organize inexpensive corporate meetings and events, The Wall Street Journal reports. A good environment for networking? Probably not. But companies such as IBM, in particular, are using the space to host employee events that otherwise would have been scaled back as a result of the economy. If you've had enough of the real world, check out our May article on the benefits and drawbacks of virtual trade shows.
Tell your story, win a trip. That's the challenge being laid down by Seattle entrepreneur and angel investor Andy Liu on his blog, Inspired Startup. Liu is offering a ticket to Think Tank, a San Diego conference and meet-up for successful online entrepreneurs, as well as $500 for travel expenses to the reader who submits the best blog post that details the toughest challenge they've faced in starting a business and how they've managed to deal with it. Think Tank tickets go for $3,500 and the event is currently sold out, so if you're itching to find a way in, this could be for you. As an added incentive, the contest will support the efforts of Future Hope, a non-profit that helps improve the education of El Salvadorian children. All the details can be found on Liu's site.
Data-as-a-Service: the next goldmine? The Wall Street Journal posits that the next goldrush for startups could come in the unfortunately-named arena of Data-as-a-Service (DaaS). Where Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), the catchall term for on-demand software hosted on the vendor's web servers and accessed online or downloaded onto a consumer device like an iPhone, is becoming a commodity, says the Journal, "it's data mixed with software that's king." An example of DaaS? Open Table's restaurant reservation software which allows users to search restaurants by geography, cuisine, and price--a real advancement on the Zagat Survey. DaaS gives startups a chance to quickly grow a lucrative company without needing a lot of employees to keep it running. Early players can also enjoy a near monopoly. Startup costs are a little heavy (the Journal estimates $10 million for servers and an online presence), but the profits margins are thick. Web 1.0 companies kept a barrier between technology and content, but the growth area today is companies that can merge the two. An executive at New York-based VC StarVest Partners tells the Journal, "We think this is going to be the next hot thing."
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.