A healthcare proposal too big to succeed

– A. G. “Terry” Newmyer is a serial entrepreneur and the former founding chairman of The Fair Care Foundation, a patient-advocacy group focused on health insurance. The views expressed are his own. –

In recent remarks to business leaders, President Obama declared himself an “ardent believer in the free market.” So, there is at least one person who is an ardent believer in that sentence.

Just this week, I had lunch with a very prominent, sane, and successful Wall Street executive who was CEO of a big-name firm. He left more than a decade ago, during an era when those folks did so with pride rather than with investigations and grand jury subpoenas.

While we ate, we worried aloud about what’s going on in Washington – the new financial capital of the world. My guest cautioned about “becoming too negative as we age.” I tend not to think of myself as aging, though I did note that last year’s inauguration marked the first time a U.S. president was younger than me. And I hardly think our lunch conversation qualifies us as “Grumpy Old Men.”

But if it does, the prospect of Medicare in a few years is looking better and better, particularly in comparison to the vagaries of the private health-insurance market. If the President truly wants us to see him as an “ardent believer” rather than a Socialist, he should be thankful that few have digested his latest healthcare proposal.

Small Talk: Not out of the woods yet

These days everybody is talking about a financial recovery, but a new Wells Fargo and Gallup study shows small business owners remain skittish.

Even with the recent positive news that the jobless rate had dropped from 10 to 9.7 percent, the study – conducted on January 22 – showed virtually no change in small business optimism from the last report in October.

The Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index optimism score came in at -16, which was down one point from October 2009 and reflects an overall negative outlook by small business owners on their companies. A zero score would indicate that small business owners have a neutral opinion about their outlook.

Yahoo can’t find buyer for small business unit

The sale of Yahoo’s small business unit, which had been rumored for months, has apparently found no takers and now the Internet firm has pulled the offer from the table, news website DailyFinance reported.

Last September a source “familiar with the matter” told Reuters that Yahoo’s asking price of between $350 million to $500 million was “likely higher than what buyers were willing to pay.”

Yahoo’s small business division provides domains, email, Web hosting and other merchant services to customers.

The state of small business

After spending most of his first year in office focused on Wall Street, President Obama tried to reconnect with disenchanted Main Street voters in his first State of the Union address.

Mentioning “small business” at least 13 times in his speech (get the full text here), the president unveiled a two-pronged attack to get America’s “true engine of job creation” back on its feet and hiring again. Obama pledged to redistribute $30 billion in repaid bailout money from big banks to smaller community banks “to give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.” He also promised to eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment, to give tax breaks for small businesses who raise wages or hire more workers, and for those who invest in new plants and equipment.

Nydia Velazquez, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business, said the president clarified the “central role small businesses play in our economy,” and added the tax initiatives “would spark growth by helping firms reinvest in their facilities.”

Winning businesses will deliver meaning online in 2010

— Thomas Bonney is founder and managing director of CMF Associates, a financial consulting, staffing and recruiting firm based in Philadelphia, PA, that serves private equity, middle-market and small-cap public companies nationally. The views expressed are his own. –

Back in January 2000, we talked extensively about the “New Economy” that was expected to accompany the commercialization of the Internet. Then what I characterize as the “Decade of Speed and Connectedness” was upon us, in which 24/7 information transparency and accessibility imparted an overlay of urgency to every potential communication, task, or issue.

This all-encompassing connectedness drove the corporate decision-making of the past 10 years to be ruled by speed. The ability to focus on priority issues at hand was lost in the rush to be first to market, in the race to rack up website hits, blog comments, and online “friends.”

High-end water filters a tough sell

Manuel Desrochers and his sister, Noemie, are the founders of Aquaovo, a Montreal, Canada-based startup that designs unique water filters, aimed at reducing the environmental hazard from billions of plastic water bottles filling up landfills (see original story here).

Their trademarked Ovopur unit is a 23-pound ceramic egg-shaped apparatus that holds 11 liters (2.9 gallons) of water and uses the combination of gravity and a glass filter cartridge to purify ordinary tap water.

“Our target market is really 30-50-year-old young professionals, who really like the design of it and they’re thrilled to hear that it’s actually functional,” said Noemie (read her journal here), who added they raised the price for the filters from $560 to $660 after their first six months in business. “We really came to this price thinking this clientele is willing to pay for quality, so they’ll spend around $700 for the Ovopur.”

Holiday sales like “crack” for retailers

Over the last few years Black Friday and Boxing Day have become the two biggest sales days on the U.S. retail calendar, but some experts say it may actually be bad for business.

According to ShopperTrak, Americans spent a total of $10.66 billion the day after Thanksgiving and $7.9 billion on the day following Christmas, making them the No. 1 and No. 2 sales days respectively. Overall, ShopperTrak said holiday sales volumes were up 1.6 percent over last year.

So what does this really mean for struggling retailers, especially small businesses that can’t match the door-busting discounts offered by retail giants like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Future Shop?

Is t-shirt advertising a sustainable business?

Jason Sadler in Times Square

Jason Sadler in Times Square

Jason Sadler makes a surprisingly good living wearing other peoples’ t-shirts – $84,000 since launching his one-man ad service last January – but our experts are doubtful he can grow it into a larger, more sustainable model.

A year ago the 27-year-old Jacksonville, Florida entrepreneur launched a website – Iwearyourshirt.com – where he charged people to wear whatever shirt they sent him (read original story here). New Year’s Day was $1 and each successive day Sadler’s fee went up a buck, so this New Year’s Eve he will charge $365. Sadler made $66,795 for advertising on his back alone and another $18,000 in monthly sponsorships, where he charges $1,500 for an ad spot on his online monthly calendar.

“I’ve got companies that need more exposure than I can give in hours I can work in a day,” said Sadler, whose very first advertiser on January 1 was live video streaming website Ustream.tv, the same platform Sadler uses to broadcast his own live one-hour webcast to chat with viewers about the companies and the products displayed on his extra-large sized chest. So far his clients range from obscure bloggers and rock bands, to startups and established companies like Zappos, Prudential and Intuit. Comedian Bill Cosby even used him to try to get more people to sign up to his Facebook page.

Small business confidence taking a beating

All those pundits who declared the current recession dead and buried, obviously haven’t been talking to small business owners.

Chapman University economists are the latest to announce the official end of the recession – with the codicil that the recovery will be more tortoise than hare.

In stark contrast to that report is the latest National Federation of Independent Business survey that shows small business confidence is locked in a downward spiral, that is worse than at any time during the last big recession in 1981-82.

Small Talk: Parsing Geithner’s speech to small business

It appears the magic number for American small businesses is 10, as in the sudden urgency to help smaller companies after the U.S. unemployment rate jumped over 10 percent last month for the first time in a quarter century. After a year with Wall Street at the top of everyone’s agenda, Main Street is now taking center stage.

Suddenly new lending programs are being announced, town halls are hastily being arranged and political heavyweights from across the financial and ideological spectrums are falling over themselves to propose their plans for how to get small businesses back on track and hiring.

Over the past month, everyone from President Obama, to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and to billionaire investor Warren Buffett have addressed the issue. Yesterday was Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s kick at the can (watch the video of his speech here), when he chaired a forum on small business financing with FDIC head Sheila Bair and SBA chief Karen Mills.