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The Benefits of Being Weird

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Each day, Inc.'s reporters scour the Web for the most important and interesting news to entrepreneurs. Here's what we found today:

Why it pays to get weird. With your advertising budget, that is. Writing on the New York Times "You're the Boss" blog, boutique advertising agency CEO MP Mueller argues that an outlandish or offbeat advertising campaign is sometimes just what a company needs to differentiate itself from the competition. Case in point, the two giant 6-foot clay "Chia heads" of the Texas gubernatorial candidates which her firm created and toured around the state as a way of promoting a liquid compost made from cow waste. Of course, the weirder the campaign, the greater the chance for failure. As Mueller points out, "Something fresh, new and untried is always a risk....The takeaway here, I guess, is that taking calculated risks can pay off. It's getting harder and harder to differentiate your brand, and the essence lies in being different."

Is working from home is a bad idea? If you've got a start-up idea, bootstrapping by working from coffee shops or your kitchen table seems natural, right? Serial entrepreneur James Reinhart begs to differ. He writes in VentureBeat that the "working from home/working from Starbucks" bootstrap is "one of the great fallacies of start-up life." He argues that distractions abound at home and your local espresso bar--so much that you'll be functioning at about 75 percent productivity there. Pressure for productivity suffers, and you're not impressing clients without a legit space. Reinhart writes: "If you really think you have a company--a real company, remember--put up the $2,500 for 3 months of rent and start building."

Health benefits on the rise. Health care reform is already expanding coverage for small business owners, the Wall Street Journal reports. The number of entrepreneurs offering their workers health insurance jumped to 59 percent this year, up from 49 percent last year, a report by Bernstein Research shows. Researchers pegged the spike to a tax credit in the health care law, which covers as much as 35 percent of a firm's insurance premiums. But many entrepreneurs snubbed their noses at the law, which they say is drowning them in tax paperwork and doesn't do enough to contain sharply rising premiums. "Most of them tell us they can't qualify for the credit, or it's just too low an incentive to be helpful," said Brad Close, vice president of public policy for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Google sues Uncle Sam. Few companies have the audacity, or the means, to sue the Federal government. And then there's Google. The tech titan has brought the Interior Department to court for being "unduly restrictive of competition," and claims that the government "considered only Microsoft products and not Google Apps when buying e-mail and collaboration software for its 88,000 employees," according to The New York Times. As Google shifts away from its original business as a standalone search engine, the company is seeking new means of generating revenue, which is where their Apps--and fat government contracts--can be extremely lucrative. "Google is searching for its second act beyond search, including applications that compete with Microsoft's word processing, spreadsheet, e-mail and other office productivity products," the article notes.

Four Loko's media makeover. The controversial alcoholic energy drink brand, which is now being investigated by the FDA, is attempting to revamp its image. Our friends at Fast Company seem to think it's too little too late. In the last week Phusion Projects, the company behind Four Loko, changed the wording of its company description from, "In 2005, three college friends from The Ohio State University noticed the growing popularity of mixing alcoholic and energy drinks, like Red Bull and vodka, and decided to create a beverage company of their own," to the much simpler, "In 2005, three college friends from The Ohio State University had the entrepreneurial idea to start their own company." Phusion Projects also removed both Four Loko's Facebook page and a page on the company website that featured photos of people drinking Four Loko. The company claimed that they were both created by interns, and therefore, not official sponsored by Phusion Projects. Check out the rest of Austin Carr's in depth chat with co-founder Chris Hunter here.

Start-ups set their sites on Ticketmaster. Ever since its emergence in the mid-70s, Ticketmaster has effectively destroyed or absorbed almost every competitor to enter the market. Though it's unlikely to abdicate any time soon, the concert juggernaut does face a fresh set of competitors that all have common goal: to get rid of those unsavory Ticketmaster service fees. This month Wired writes of several start-ups like Topspin Media, Veritix, Ticketfly, and In Ticketing that all aim to reduce or eliminate such fees and provide greater convenience to the customer. Some like Topspin have already signed deals with artists to market their music directly to fans without surcharges or booking fees. Still, Ticketmaster's "supernatural" ability to manage million of ticket requests and ingrained relationships in the industry give it a strong advantage going forward. Survival, writes Wired, will require greater innovation and reliability on the part of these new interlopers.

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Last updated: Nov 2, 2010




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