Each day, Inc.'s reporters scour the Web for the most important and interesting news to entrepreneurs. Here's what we found today:
Do-it-yourself manufacturing. We've told you before about companies like Ponoko and Techshop that are fostering a generation of custom manufacturers. Now, The New York Times is exploring the phenomenon of 3D printing technology, and how it's contributing to the growth of what is increasingly being called the "manufacturing revolution." The Times tells the story of one San Francisco-based company, Bespoke, that's using 3D printers to make designer prosthetic limbs and another LA-based business, Contour Crafting, that's using the technology to build entire houses. "It is manufacturing with a mouse click instead of hammers, nails and, well, workers," the Times writes. "Advocates of the technology say that by doing away with manual labor, 3-D printing could revamp the economics of manufacturing and revive American industry as creativity and ingenuity replace labor costs as the main concern around a variety of goods."
How do you achieve innovation? We've all heard the standard refrain about "what it will take to succeed in the modern world." But what will it take? In this BusinessWeek story, authors and entrepreneurs G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón offer sage advice on the subject to decision makers at companies both small and large. "If you don't have the guts to do it, then please stop saying you are going to change the world," they write. They encourage failure, because every failure brings a company closer to the solution. If you do fail, they write, "fail forward." And if that doesn't work, don't be afraid to quit. "If you find yourself so afraid, so burned-out, so cynical that you can't believe a big idea is about to happen, it is time to move on to the next challenge," they write. "You have the smarts, the experience, the skills to become an amazing change agent in another industry. Go find it."
Small-business outlook a mixed bag. The National Federation of Independent Business released its latest small-business optimism index report today and the results, unsurprisingly, show that entrepreneurs remain cautiously optimistic but are still concerned about the country's economic outlook. As MarketWatch reports, the optimism index increased slightly, inching up 0.7 of a point to stand at 88.8. That good news was weighed down by the fact that an index score below 90 is "typical of a weak or recession-mired economy," according to the NFIB study. Of the index's ten components, five fell, four rose, and one remained flat. The biggest gain seen in the index was the measure of expectations for the future, as the percentage of entrepreneurs who believe the economy will improve rose seven percentage points. To download the full report, click here.
The online TV power struggle. With Apple TV's revamp announcement last week and rumors of Google TV coming this fall, competitors in online TV will experience a bit of a shock. Original vanguards of the trend like Roku and Boxee now have to adapt as Google and Apple descend upon the market. The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro wonders how consumers will react to these new changes. Will they gravitate toward Apple's promise of simplicity and quality (without YouTube), or will they prefer the wider selections of Roku and Boxee (without the refined interface). Or, in the face of the complexity, price, and inconvenience of these new services, will they simply stick to their satellite and cable providers? We'll have to wait and see.
A job title that can kill a start-up. For tech start-ups especially, it's the VP of sales. As Steve Blank explains in this cautionary tale, sales teams in existing companies are often working with an established business model while start-ups in search of a business model require salespeople "agile enough to deal with daily change, operating 'without a map.'" "Sales implies 'execution,'" Blank writes, "but that mindset impedes (majorly screws up) progress in searching for a business model. Therefore we need a different job function, job title and different type of person. They would be responsible for Customer Validation...and searching around a series of unknowns."