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Longreads Best of 2012: Inc. Magazine's Burt Helm

Burt Helm is Senior Writer for Inc. Magazine. His stories, "The Forgotten Founder," " Where Did Our Love Go?" and "Hard Lessons in Modern Lending," were featured on Longreads in 2012.

Read more guest picks from Longreads Best of 2012.
AUTHOR:Burt Helm
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2012

Hard Lessons in Modern Lending

After the financial crisis, banks reduced risk not just by eliminating those who weren't paying—they also were saying goodbye to scores of small businesses that had otherwise been responsible:

"It didn't matter that JBC's business had recovered; the decision had been made months before. The men recognized the irony. Under different circumstances, 'we'd be aggressively pursuing you as a customer,' one of them told Bliss. But JBC had been deemed, in the oblique vocabulary of Charter One and its parent companies, Citizens Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland, noncore.

"The problem was not Bliss's company but his industry and region--both of which, in an effort to stem future losses, his bank had essentially written off. Charter One, like other banks across the country, was using a sort of predictive math to sever ties with struggling borrowers before they stopped making payments. In the process, banks were abandoning businesses that were recovering, too. 'It was a bizarre situation,' Bliss says. 'We were successful. It was so frustrating.'"
AUTHOR:Burt Helm
PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3579 words) Where Did Our Love Go?

The complicated relationship between founders of a startup. Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein lead, but with very different viewpoints on how to succeed:

"Then traffic started falling. By autumn, it dwindled to less than half its peak, and the very same tech watchers started wondering whether it was all over. Goldstein says he can hear the doubt in the voices of his Silicon Valley friends. 'I can tell now when people say, "How's it going?" they mean, "You're flattening, aren't you?" '

"Chasen and Goldstein agree the music fans are still out there (music site Pandora has 49 million active users, Spotify 17 million). Their disagreement over the answer to the obvious question—how to get them back—has created a rift between them that has influenced both their partnership and the direction of the company. In some ways, it's a classic split between product and marketing. But their predicament highlights what's so weird about the social-media business: Nobody understands why certain sites grow, exactly. Yet whether or not Turntable takes off again will determine whether it is worth billions or practically nothing. And with no causal data, all that remains is buzz, conjecture, and gossip—the How's it going?"
AUTHOR:Burt Helm
PUBLISHED: April 30, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4264 words)

The Forgotten Founder: A Silicon Valley Tale of Humiliation and Revenge

Khalid Shaikh helped create the file-uploading company YouSendIt. After battling with the CEO, he was fired—and he soon launched a series of cyberattacks:

"In Shaikh's absence, YouSendIt had continued to grow. It had raised an additional $14 million in VC funding and had 100,000 paying subscribers. Still, Shaikh marveled at how often YouSendIt's site went down. He had even sent a tip about one of the outages to Valleywag, an industry gossip blog, which ignored his e-mail. If YouSendIt's servers were still running the way he had left them, he believed, the site wouldn't be crashing. At YouSendIt, Shaikh had been the subject of what he calls 'senseless, mindless pressure' to keep the servers running. Now, no one seemed to care.

"So, on a chilly Tuesday morning in December, Shaikh ran a piece of testing software, called ApacheBench, that flooded YouSendIt's servers with traffic. The servers keeled over immediately. Later that day, a sentence appeared on YouSendIt's Wikipedia page: 'Looks like the company may be out of business, their site is down.'"
AUTHOR:Burt Helm
PUBLISHED: Feb. 28, 2012
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5283 words)