Yelp Co-founder Ducks Out
Yelp co-founder leaving company. A little less than six years after launching review site Yelp with his former PayPal co-worker Jeremy Stoppelman, CTO Russel Simmons is leaving Yelp, TechCrunch is reporting. "Simmons will be transitioning to an advisor role and take some time off to travel," Robin Wauters writes. It's already been a tumultuous year for Yelp, which walked away from a huge takeover deal with Google and later became the target of class-action lawsuit. While the site has reached 31 million monthly unique visitors, there's still a love-hate relationship between small businesses and Yelp, as we told reported in our February cover story.
R.I.P. to the king of the breakfast sausage. A fond farewell this morning goes out to country singer, TV host, and sausage entrepreneur, Jimmy Dean, who died yesterday at the age of 81. An earlier generation may remember Dean best for his 1961 Grammy-winning song "Big Bad John," but of late he was more acclaimed for his Jimmy Dean brand of breakfast sausages. Born in 1928 and raised in poverty in Plainview, Texas, Dean dropped out of high school in ninth grade before eventually getting into the entertainment business. As the Washington Post reports, Dean got into the sausage business in the late 1960s, using the experience he gained from butchering hogs while growing up. The Jimmy Dean Meat Co. was profitable after six months and was ultimately sold to Sara Lee in 1984. In addition to being remembered as a popular entertainer and successful businessman, Dean's legacy unfortunately also includes the notoriously stomach-turning creation, blueberry pancake and sausage on a stick.
Has the recession actually been good for entrepreneurship? The New York Times ran a piece a couple of weeks ago arguing that "last year was a fabulous one for entrepreneurs," but Small Business Trends has a different take on the numbers. The Kauffman index, which the Times quotes in the piece, reported a 13.3 percent increase in the number of people who became self-employed from 2007 to 2009, but the post at Small Biz Trends points out that the BLS shows a 5.9 percent drop for the same period. Still, "what's not measured by either source is the number of people who quit self-employment in a particular month," the post's author writes. He points to additional statistics that indicate the self-employment failure rate has become "so large that the number of people working for themselves has dropped, despite a sizeable increase in the number of people becoming self-employed."
I can has Internet empire? The New York Times gets inside the mind of Ben Huh, the man behind quirky blogs like Fail Blog. According to the story, Huh stumbled upon I Can Has Cheezburger, a website full of kitty photos and misspelled captions just three years ago. He posted a link of it to his own blog, which quickly broke down due to the influx of Web traffic. He bought the site with investments and $10,000 of his own savings, and tells the Times that the business, which has grown to include 53 sites, has been profitable since the get go, with most of the money coming from advertising, licensing and merchandise sales. According to Kiki Kane, who works on site development, the Cheezburger Network has grown because of the staff's commitment to keeping their fingers on the pulse of Internet trends. "We're constantly monitoring the Web for new memes," she told the Times. "Those bits of cultural shorthand, inside jokes that you get right away just by seeing a visual image."
How Diapers.com became a $180 million phenomenon. Robots! That's according to Singularity Hub, which says that the Inc. 500 company was able to quickly fill lots of orders by using robots made by Kiva Systems. We're not sure if we believe that's the only reason; fans of the Singularity love robots, after all, but we do think that Kiva's robots, which allow warehouse workers to stay in one place as the orders come to them, are really darn cool. As the blog says, they are "a great example of how man and machine working together can maximize the efficiency of each." The company behind Diapers.com, Quidsi, is set to launch a new store, Soap.com, which will try to break into the drugstore business. With the help of robots, naturally.
How do you know if your idea will work? Short answer: do your homework and ask for feedback. When Saverio Mancina thought he might be laid off from his job of five years, he started e-mailing more than two dozen executives to find out whether their companies would hire him for projects if he launched his own PR firm. After that, Mancina used LinkedIn to query industry insiders on his business model. When he got the pink slip, he felt confident starting his own company, which now has 10 steady clients. It might be tempting to jump in and hope for the best, but the the Wall Street Journal recommends doing your research first. Solicit feedback from potential buyers to see if they'd be interest in your product and what they'd consider paying for it. For putting together affordable online surveys, try SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang.
Seven ways to generate buzz. Small businesses need to get more creative than big corporations when it comes to marketing themselves because they don't have the seven-figure budgets to blow on pricey ad campaigns. However, SMBs do have the advantage of being able to give their marketing outreach a more personal touch. WebWorkerDaily has seven ideas for entrepreneurs to generate buzz for their small businesses. Some, such as conducting an interview series on your podcast or blog, seem solid, but others, such as organizing a "one-day book club," might just not be for everyone.
In business, how do you measure "inventiveness?" The Daily Beast says that's simple: just tally how many patents a given company has. To compile a list of the 50 Most Inventive Companies, the site added a twist. It took the number of approved U.S. patents in the past five years and divided it by number of employees, to "measure which companies are inventive in their DNA, versus their bulk size." Which companies fared best? Within the top 10, most companies make semiconductors or cellular technology. At #3 is Altera, a semiconductor maker that's filed 1,064 patents over the past five years. Ranking second is another semiconductor industry player, LSA Corporations, which was lauded in 2006 for improving digital video encoding and decoding for Blu-ray and high-def DVD players. No. 1? that's InterDigital Communications, a comparatively smaller company that's been a player in evolving cellphone technology since the 1960s.
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CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.