Experts weigh in on Twitter-based shopping site

IMshopping's Twitter pageYesterday we presented entrepreneur Prashant Nedungadi (read his entrepreneur journal) and his startup website IMshopping.com, which offers a platform whereby consumers can ask specific retail-related questions, through the website directly or via Twitter, and have them answered by an online community of retail experts. (click here to read Nedungadi’s pitch)

Nedungadi launched his website last April and has already received $4.7 million in venture capital investment from SK Telecom, but now needs to find retailers willing to pay to utilize his virtual sales force instead of going the traditional route and hiring their own sales people.

Our panel of experts have watched Nedungadi’s pitch video and gave us their reaction to IMshopping and Nedungadi’s business model.


Tom RyanTom Ryan, the CEO of the trend-setting clothing company Threadless, knows all about leveraging Twitter for business, having formed a partnership with the social media powerhouse to reproduce notable “tweets” on t-shirts.

“I believe that using social solutions to boost conversion is generally promising,” said Ryan, who feels IMshopping’s approach of creating a network of unbiased experts to answer specific questions of shoppers is interesting.

Free labor could pose problems for companies

USA-ECONOMY/As any small business owner knows, getting a new company off the ground requires a lot of work. And for those entrepreneurs not enamored with the idea of running their company as a one-person show, hiring employees is among the first steps along the way to actually making it happen.

Unfortunately, many of the same startups burdened with so much work also suffer from a limited supply of funds in their early days, meaning they can find it tough to afford the number of employees they need.

But with the ranks of unemployed in the United States hovering at its highest rate in more than two decades, some small firms have found a rather unusual solution to this dilemma  – people willing to work for free. Employment agencies such as Jobnob.com and PeopleConnect have done their part in connecting unemployed individuals willing to work without payment to small firms in need of a helping hand.

A “silver lining” for entrepreneurs?

cloudsA new study shows that bear markets and recessions can actually be good times to start a new company.

The report, produced by U.S.-based entrepreneurial think-tank the Kauffman Foundation, suggests that despite the widespread pain felt during tough economic times, an “entrepreneurial silver lining” can encourage long-term business growth and job creation.

In fact, the authors of the report found that more than 50 percent of the companies on this year’s Fortune 500 list and just under half of those on Inc.’s 2008 list of fastest-growing companies were started during a recession or bear market.

VCs more risk averse as recession bites: survey

calculatorIt’s no secret that venture capital firms are tightening their belts in order to weather the current economic downturn, but a new survey depicts a larger realignment at work in the industry.

This year’s Global Venture Capital Survey, a joint report produced by Deloitte and national venture capital associations around the world, shows that in addition to reducing their overall investments during the past year, VC firms have also shifted their efforts to focus on later-stage investments.

According to the report, more VCs may be avoiding early-stage investments because acquisitions now take longer to finalize and IPOs are few and far between in the current economic climate. This means it can be tough for VC firms to plot a quick exit strategy.

Recession benefits one Texas small business

This is part of a series of personal accounts about small business and the recession. The writers are contributors to Associated Content.

by Michelle L Devon

If there is a recession going on, I hadn’t noticed. At Christmas, I was the only member of my family to purchase gifts for everyone. My mother said, “It’s been a hard year for everyone.”

“Not for me,” I answered. Business is going great for me.

That’s one of the good things about owning a small business that provides contract services. When a recession hits and layoffs happen, companies merge employee duties so one person takes on the role of two, without additional compensation.

Lack of competition keeps small business afloat

This is part of a series of personal accounts about small business and the recession. The writers are contributors to Associated Content.

by April Hendrickson

I own and operate Pro Dyno High Performance, a 27-year-old automotive performance shop in Phoenix that I took over six years ago.

We provide automotive luxuries — custom exhaust systems, specialty engines, superchargers, etc. — mostly for GM vehicles.

Networks promise recession victims entrepreneurial edge

USA/“So you’ve been laid off. That sucks. But it doesn’t have to.” Those are the first words of encouragement offered up to visitors upon landing at the website for The Runway Project, a new venture that helps recently laid-off individuals start their own companies. Call it small-business networking, recession-style.

The project’s more than just a virtual affair, though. Since launching the group in March, founder Tony Bacigalupo and his affiliates have been busy hosting free get-togethers in New York City for would-be entrepreneurs on everything from the mechanics of starting a business to tips on building a personal brand. Another upcoming session promises a crash course on bookkeeping for startups.

The meetings are also a forum for brainstorming with other like-minded people and small-business experts. “Insanely helpful! Having a group of people to brainstorm with is priceless,” wrote one woman, who attended an April session, in a comment on the group’s website. And other comments suggest some are eager to get branches up and running in other U.S. cities, too.

Green shoots — where!?

Small business owners in the U.S. may be pleased to hear that some of their brethren are feeling a bit more optimistic about the future. The fresh sliver of positive news arrived in inboxes across the country Monday and shows confidence among small business owners in the U.S. appears to be headed up, albeit not entirely out of the gutter.

The Discover Financial Services survey, part of its Small Business Watch program, shows the number of small business owners who see the broader U.S. economy improving jumped to 31 percent in April, up from 16 percent in March. That’s the highest level for that measure in two years.

While the survey showed some small business owners growing more optimistic, 51 percent still see worse economic times ahead. And the pessimism doesn’t stop there. A whopping 91 percent of small business owners rated the current U.S. economy as “poor” or “fair,” and that’s the measure that’s stayed constant for the last eight months.

The recession won’t last forever — so get ready

cleaningIt’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when the economy is tanking, but recent headlines suggest that recovery isn’t so far off — and that means small businesses better dust themselves off and brace for a turnaround.

According to small biz expert Rieva Lesonsky, all the inventory-slashing, staff-paring and morale-squashing that’s been the norm of late is bound to backfire when consumers wake up from their recession-induced spending coma and come a-knockin’.

So what’s a small business owner to do in the meantime? Lesonsky offers the following tips: