It's hard to believe, but not so many years ago, it was easy to come across businesses that didn't have websites. Today, of course, a website is something no company can live without. We are near the beginning of a similar cycle with the next game-changing technology: applications for smartphones. You may not think you need one now. But just wait: Before you know it, your app strategy will be a key component of your overall digital strategy.

By the end of 2011, half of the cell phones in the U.S. -- approximately 150 million devices -- will be smartphones. By 2014, the smartphone-app market will total more than $40 billion. Sure, some of the most popular mobile apps are simple and addictive games like Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies. But a growing number are being created by entrepreneurs -- such as those spotlighted on the pages that follow -- who are using apps to find new customers, deepen relationships with existing ones, target people geographically, and even reinvent their business models.




Using GPS to Target Customers

As the founder of Thrillist, a New York City media company that prides itself on being an arbiter of all things cool, Ben Lerer knew his business needed to get into the newest "it" space -- mobile apps. Thrillist's core business consists of sending 2.5 million subscribers daily e-mails that highlight new bars, restaurants, and shops in 18 cities. An app, Lerer thought, would be a logical extension for the business. "We want to create as many opportunities as possible for our guys to interact with Thrillist," he says. Read More

Delivering Coupons to iPhones

You would be hard-pressed to find many adults who leave the house without a phone. For Nik Blosser, that's at once promising and frightening. Blosser is the president of Portland, Oregon -- based Celilo Group Media, which produces Chinook Books, print coupon books that contain discounts for hundreds of eco-friendly businesses in six cities. Sales of Chinook Books have steadily grown over the years, but Blosser is not blind to the fact that coupons available on smartphones are a lot more convenient than the print versions. Read More

An App for Postrehab Living

Promises Treatment Centers's business consists of providing alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs in cushy and picturesque settings that attract celebrities (Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan reportedly have checked in) and other big spenders who can dish out as much as $2,000 a day for treatment. Read More

When Apps Go Viral

If its iPhone app is any indication, HeadBlade cares as much about making people laugh as about moving merchandise. But if that app, which lets users see what they would look like with shaved heads, is generating chuckles, it is also creating something you can't put a price tag on: buzz. Read More