Get ready for Twitter, the gadget. One of the reasons for Twitter's breakneck growth has been the company's decision to make its data available to anyone interested in building applications on top of its messaging system. (This approach has worked pretty well for two other companies you may have heard of.) Until now, all of the Twitter upstarts--such as the iPhone app Tweetie and the link-shortener Bit.ly--have focused on making software. But now, one company is trying to turn Twitter into a profitable gadget. Peek, a New York start-up that makes a cell-phone like device for email, just introduced a $199 hand-held gadget "built exclusively for sending tweets," according to the Wall Street Journal's venture capital blog. According to the article, Peek "expects the TwitterPeek to be popular among those who use Twitter to promote their business, likely equipping an employee with a dedicated device." (Via Techmeme.)
Hiring data shows a glimmer of hope. Good news! As reported in the Houston Chronicle, a recent survey of small- and medium-sized businesses showed that 28 percent are planning to add new positions. That number is up significantly from six months ago when only 18 percent said they were planning on making new hires. The survey, which was done by HR outsourcing firm Administaff, also revealed that 23 percent of companies are planning to increase their employee compensation.
Are multitaskers more productive?. Web Worker Daily says no, citing a recent study. Stanford researcher Clifford Nass started looking into the subject because he envied his students' ability to multitask and wanted to know how they did it. So Nass and his colleagues studied a group of 100 "high multitaskers" (who used four or five types of media at the same time, like texting while reading email while chatting on the phone) and "low multitaskers" (who used a piddling two at a time). The results showed that the high multitaskers did worse on all three aspects that define success: the ability to focus on the relevant and ignore the rest; the ability to organize information; and being able to move between tasks. Of course, it's possible that high multitaskers are just naturally bad at those kind of things. It's also possible checking your Blackberry while you browse the internet while you're on the phone with the client isn't actually improving your productivity. Inc.com's own Josh Spiro talked to Pandora founder Tim Westergren about this topic back in September. Read Westergren's tips for staying productive.
An academic start-up incubator. It's not always clear how to take the great ideas hatched in universities and turn them into companies. But, as TechCrunch reports, the University of Southern California's Stevens Institute for Innovation is doing its part. The college is set to announce tomorrow that the Stevens Institute has helped raise $115 million in funding for 15 USC spin-offs in the past two years, connecting entrepreneurs with foreign investors, grants, and local VCs.
How to pick your angels. Hacker News flags a post by Chris Dixon on mistakes start-ups make when choosing their angel investors. He cautions against picking angels who are suggested by your lead investors and against picking investors simply because they are well-known. Instead, Dixon recommends picking "a varied group of people." He writes, "If you want a few celebrities to create some buzz, fine. You should also pick some people who are connectors — who can introduce you to key people when you need it (varying connectors by geography and industry can also be helpful). Also very important are active entrepreneurs who can (and will) give you practical advice about hiring, product development, financing etc." For help finding angels, check out our angel investor directory.
Are entrepreneurs the new celebrities? Maybe not, says the Wall Street Journal, but things seem to be moving in that direction--at least when it comes to product endorsements. The article cites several companies, including Dell, American Express and Intel, that have recently used entrepreneurs in ad campaigns. After AT&T spotlighted Blake Mycoskie, the founder of the Venice, Calif.-based Toms Shoes, in a 30-second commercial during the Masters Golf Tournament, the spot became so popular online that the phone company produced a 60-second version that premiered on American Idol. Mycoskie also notes that his daily online traffic tripled. "There can be no doubt that AT&T is responsible for this increased exposure," he says. The Journal goes on to highlight the cost-effectiveness of using entrepreneurs, who will often do the campaigns for free, versus A-list celebrities, who can come with a million dollar price tag.
Build-a-Bear cleaning up. It's hard to believe that an industry that specializes in making cute and cuddly teddy bears, and other fuzzy friends, is worth $1.5 billion in the U.S. alone. It is, and the St. Louis, Missouri-based retailer Build-a-Bear Workshop is dominating that market, reports CNN Money. Founder Maxine Clark started the business in 1997 in her local mall, and has since expanded the enterprise to 400 locations nationwide. Build-a-Bear's 2008 revenues hit $468 million. Says Clark, "When customers create toys at Build-A-Bear Workshop, they make something that is theirs alone...At Build-a-Bear it's all right to act like a kid. That's appealing to people who are 10 or 60."
Time to diversify? When the economy is bad and revenues drop, diversification seems like a reasonable strategy. But in a Harvard Business blog post, Monica Tate-Maile discusses how hard it can be. Meanwhile, check out the Case Study in Inc.'s November issue about how a troubled company found new opportunities in lean times.
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