The Engine of Growth

Your cover story on the growth and success of Zipcar ["How Fast Can This Thing Go, Anyway?" March] was fascinating and timely. I recently signed up for the service, and I've been struck by how little Zipcar has been covered by the media, even as it totally rewrites the rules for car rentals. What hasn't been written about Zipcar is how easy it makes things for its customers. When I recently rented a Zipcar for a two-hour errand, I realized minutes before my window was closing that I would be late. Using my cell phone, I extended my rental by 30 minutes, which bought me some breathing room. The whole transaction was done while I waited at a traffic signal. All customer service should be this effortless.

Vincent Morris
Communications Director
Information Technology Industry Council
Washington, D.C.

You didn't tell the human side of the story of Zipcar's merger with Flexcar. I'm a former Flexcar member who was rolled into a Zipcar membership when the two companies consolidated in the Washington, D.C., area. I was an enthusiastic Flexcar user. I drove a Flexcar in a local parade, got T-shirts and swag, and even was asked by Flexcar to talk the company up on the local news a few years back. Now, with Zipcar, the exact same car that I rented for $5 per hour before the merger costs me $9 per hour weekdays and $9.75 an hour weekends, an 80 to nearly 100 percent increase in my outlay. Instead of receiving a thank-you for taking my car for a wash and filling it up with gas before returning it, now I receive an e-mail from Zipcar asking me not to wash my car before returning it because the crews they hire won't have anything to do if the car is already clean. Is this how CEO Scott Griffith hopes to keep customers? If so, it's failed in our case. We're going to buy a second car. Zipcar is no longer a rewarding option for us.

Sandra Alboum
President and CEO
Alboum & Associates Language Services
Arlington, Virginia

Your cover promises to describe how Scott Griffith built Zipcar into "a $100 million success." When I came to the end of the story, however, it stated, "While some of Zipcar's cities are profitable, the company as a whole is not." Can you really call this company a $100 million success? Maybe that's the difference between a privately held and a publicly held company. Public companies have to equate success with bottom-line performance. If the company lost money at $2 million in revenue and is still losing money at $100 million in revenue, something has to be wrong with the business model. We have to remember that bigger is not always better. I would rather have a $50 million company that made money than a $100 million company that did not.

Howard Rynberk
President and CEO
Valley View Industries
Crestwood, Illinois

Signs of the Times

Your article on digital billboards ["Bright Lights, Big Impact," March] was disappointingly one-sided. The implication that digital signs are widely accepted and are inevitable fixtures on American roadways is incorrect and misleading. Along with aesthetic concerns about allowing giant glowing television sets to dominate the visual environment of city centers and highways, the safety issues are far from settled. The story correctly points out that distraction exceeding two seconds poses significant dangers, but it does not acknowledge that digital billboards routinely attract glances far beyond that limit. Right now, the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies are all examining the safety implications of digital signage.

The article's headline is accurate: The lights are bright, and they do have a big impact. Unfortunately, that impact extends beyond the bottom line of sign companies and includes the aesthetic quality of communities and the safety of the American public.

Kevin E. Fry
President
Scenic America
Washington, D.C.

The Business of War

With regard to Inc.'s interview of Charles Ferguson [Leadership Lessons," March] and his film No End in Sight, I would suggest that it is unwise to analyze the government in the same the way one might review the management of a business. The cultures, personalities, risks, benefits, and strategies in these organization types are fantastically different. If you want to write an article mixing business with government, it would be more fitting to cover someone like New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has implemented his business strategies in his government office.

Andrea Rose Kalish
Riverdale, New York

A No on Noncompetes

As the owner of a fast-growing commercial general contracting company, I'd have to say that noncompete agreements ["Protecting Company Secrets", February] are draconian.

I've taken a different tack. We have all employees (even our janitor) read and sign a document in which they pledge to avoid soliciting our customers for two years. My employees must also agree in writing to keep our company's methods secret. It's a gentler version of a noncompete agreement. I carefully explain why we do require this. In addition, we review our policies each year, and everyone, including me, re-signs them each year. Any decent law firm can likely provide this type of contract.

I'm in a rough-and-tumble business -- legalized gambling, let's call it. Employees, not customers, are my greatest resource and my greatest risk factor. I sleep better at night, not because I caged the tiger but because I at least have a leash on him.

Gerry Crawley
Owner
Allied Retail Concepts
Merriam, Kansas

Generally Speaking

Joel Spolsky's experience with leadership in the military [How Hard Could it Be?,March] reminds me of more than a few business leaders I know. Once a company gets off the ground and a founder has a little bit of money in his pocket, he must keep in mind what it was like to be on a salary. No matter how well you pay your employees, their perspective on money will always be different than yours. You can't throw money around and expect your employees not to notice. A CEO's midwinter tan or comfortable schedule can be seen by his employees as a symbol of everything that's wrong with their company.

Joseph Nerenberg
Passaic, New Jersey

A True Entrepreneur

I remember reading the issue of Inc. that named Ken Hendricks, the founder of ABC Supply, as Entrepreneur of the Year ["Create Jobs, Eliminate Waste, Preserve Value," December 2006]. It was truly inspiring to hear about a guy who basically built himself a billion-dollar business. When I read in the March issue that he died in a tragic fall [Legacy], I was stunned. Ken Hendricks was incredible; I hope his family carries on his work.

Michael Caruso
Long Beach, New York

Missing The Office

I realize that every magazine goes through changes. But I was disappointed to see that Leigh Buchanan's column, The Office, is gone from the magazine. This was usually the second section I read, after Norm Brodsky's Street Smarts.

As a small-business owner, I always found it comforting, humorous, and interesting to read about just how many common threads we encounter at the office. I'm hoping you will consider putting it back into the rotation.

Monica Allen
Co-owner
Allen Professional Graphics Group
Atlanta

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