In defense of not changing the world. We told you yesterday about complaints from some entrepreneurs that the new startups unveiled at the Techcrunch50 conference were, well, kind of uninspiring. Today, TechCrunch's Sara Lacy comes out and says the same. "There were too many people building safe businesses, too many companies just trying to make existing things slightly better, and too many people wanting to be the next Mint.com, not the next Google," she writes in her post, "Memo to startups: You're Supposed to Be Changing the World." Well one startup has responded by making a good point: Most revolutionary companies don't start off especially revolutionary. "Facebook was just another social network, where the killer feature seemed to be finding people in your classes," Graffitigeo writes. "PayPal started as a cryptography library for PDAs. YouTube was a dating site. Dell sold computers directly to customers. Twitter was just an online SMS service (depending on who you ask, it was "oh God, they stole the Facebook Status Update and created a company around it")." (Via Hacker News.)
Chipotle founder Steve Ells on an original idea. The Wall Street talks to Chipotle Mexican Grill founder Steve Ells as part of its new How I Built It feature. (Sounds a little like the How I Did Its we've been running since 2003, doesn't it?). Ells started his quick-serve, but organic, burrito and taco joint with the idea of using that revenue to finance a high-end restaurant. With more than 900 locations and 24,000 employees and McDonald's as a backer, his side project ended up becoming his true calling. Ells kept the original design simple to make it easier for him to step away. But the raw look of the store, and the easy to put together food also made it cinch to replicate. Ells, who financed the first restaurant with money from his dad, the second out of cash flow, and the third from an SBA loan, seemed to be doing everything the wrong way at first. The food was too spicy and the components were inefficiently made from scratch. "But that's why customers liked it; it's different, in the right way. If everybody is telling you that it's wrong, maybe that's an indication that it's an original idea." To hear more about other innovators and unlikely success stories, peruse our How I Did It archives, including the founders of The Blue Man Group, Alibaba.com, and LinkedIn.
Google makes itself a middleman for display ads. Google's much-anticipated new service, called DoubleClick Ad Exchange, is out today. It functions like a stock exchange for display ads and allows companies to bid for ad space across vastly different sites in real-time, depending on what publishers want to sell at that very moment, reports the Wall Street Journal. Google thinks this new technology will boost publisher's revenues by employing the same auction format Google used to sell search ads, and by encouraging advertisers to buy in bulk.
Did investors push Mint into sale to Intuit? That's the belief 37signals' CEO Jason Fried is pushing today. And he's not happy about it. Not one bit. "Here's a fresh new company that was gunning for an aging incumbent," Fried writes. "Mint was a key leader of the next generation of game changers...What a loss." Fred Wilson guesses that the motivation to sell Mint came not from its investors, but from the top of Mint itself. "This smells to me of a young founder facing the prospect of making enough money at an early age that their life will be changed forever and not being able to resist it," he writes in the comments section. (Hat tip to The Business Insider.)
Can you trust your VC? VentureBeat has a post from an entrepreneur that suggests that venture capitalists may have lost touch with the entrepreneurs they're supposed to be helping. Steve Blank argues that VCs no longer try to build sustainable companies, they simply hype unprofitable ideas and get out. "It may be that the venture business will have to return to the old days of helping entrepreneurs build companies' not hype them, not spin them, but actually make them worth something to customers and investors," he writes. "The question is: Do VCs still have what it takes to do so?" Now, we love a good anti-VC tirade as much as the next guy. We wrote one ourselves way back in 1984--"Why Smart Companies Are Saying No to Venture Capital"--and we love Paul Graham's beautifully titled "Unified Theory of VC Suckage". But Blank is overselling his central complaint, which is that VCs are more interested in making money for themselves than they are in making you money. That's always been true for investors of every kind (Mom and Dad excepted). And it probably always will be.
Pimp my school "This lesson has been brought to you in part by Pepsi," said the teacher. Such lines might not be so far in the future in Santa Rosa, California. David Lazarus of the LA Times says the school board has voted to allow businesses naming rights and other sponsorship opportunities for schools in the district. As parent, Lazarus was initially outraged, but comes around reasoning if it provides the funding for books, computer labs, and after school programs, why not surround the tykes with a little branding? Here's a bit about the benefits of event sponsorship and the stories of two companies who gave sports sponsorship a go.
New SBA chief on the hot seat. Former venture capitalist and current administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, has certainly had enough challenges to keep her busy since she took office back in April. Now five months into her new gig, she sat down with the Denver Business Journal to talk about what the SBA is doing to help with the economic recovery. With the federal stimulus program giving the SBA $730 million to help promote lending to small businesses, the question on most business owner's minds is "How come we're still having trouble securing a loan?" As she puts it, "We still have a ways to go."
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