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Confessions of a Corporate Spy

[Not single-page] A competitive intelligence consultant on how he acquires information about competitors for various companies:

"As the sales manager and I surfed Talbots's website together, looking for the green mini my wife saw on the website earlier that day, I mentioned offhand that I had just graduated from business school. I talked about how tough it had been to find a 'real' job and said I did some business research now, casually identifying the analysts out in California who had hired me. I mentioned that I was really interested in retail stuff—that, heck, I was helping write a report on it for investors, in fact. And wow, isn't the retail world weird these days with the recession and all? Thus began a conversation about the business.

"Apparently that store had been having a great year. Best in the region. Hitting its numbers. What numbers? Oh! You must be proud. Any younger folks biting on this new stuff?

"I fingered the cell phone in my front shirt pocket, to see if the voice recorder was still working. No, I didn't tell the manager I was recording her. Legally, in Georgia, I didn't have to."
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3373 words)

Autism Inc.: The Discredited Science, Shady Treatments and Rising Profits Behind Alternative Autism Treatments

Parents of children on the autism spectrum are wading through a considerable amount of information on the Internet purporting effective treatment and "cures" for autism. A majority of the treatments have been discredited:

"Almost by accident, Laidler says he and Ann, discovered the diet they’d put their son on didn’t work. 'He was gluten-free and we thought it was a miraculous cure for our son because he’d made pretty dramatic strides from the age of 3 to 4. We were starting to see real progress. But on a trip to Disneyland, he grabbed a waffle off the table and ate it before we could stop him. Doctors had told us that one drop [of gluten] would cause a dramatic relapse—we’d been told anecdotal stories that a speck of wheat bread would cause an autistic child to have weeks of bad behavior. And nothing happened.'

"The Laidlers had also tried chelating their son, and as physicians they had helped other families who wanted to try it. 'Nobody ever told me it did any good. So to regain my sense of mental balance I started asking a lot of pointed questions: Have you tried chelation? What was the result? Ninety percent of people I asked said they saw no improvement.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5712 words)

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

Burt Helm is Senior Writer for Inc. Magazine. His stories, "The Forgotten Founder," "Turntable.fm: 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
SOURCE:Longreads
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
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2012
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3579 words)

Global Copycats: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

[Not single-page] A profile of Oliver Samwer and his web copycat factory in Berlin, which specializes in building knockoff websites inspired by growing American startups—then, sometimes, selling them back to the original company:

"The decision to copy a given business generally takes three hours to a couple of days; actually building the first version of the new company's website takes four to six weeks. "The speed at which you can make decisions here is amazing," says Brigitte Wittekind, a former McKinsey consultant who was recruited last year to create a clone of Birchbox, the New York start-up that offers samples of cosmetics to subscribers for $10 a month. Wittekind's company, Glossybox, spent its first year opening websites in 20 countries. It has 400 employees and 200,000 paid subscribers—twice as many as its American counterpart—and just launched in the United States, one of the few instances in which a Rocket clone will go head to head with the company on which it is modeled."
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: May 29, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3957 words)

Turntable.fm: Where Did Our Love Go?

The complicated relationship between founders of a startup. Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein lead Turntable.fm, 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
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: April 30, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4264 words)

Future TechStars, Step Forward

What does it take to get a tech startup funded? Inside the competitive selection process for one incubator in New York City:

"The date is January 24, one day after applications were due for TechStars, a three-month mentorship program that is part boot camp, part investment fund. Some 1,480 young companies have filled out a questionnaire and recorded two short videos for the chance to compete for just 14 spots. That works out to an acceptance rate of less than 1 percent. 'Look to your right; look to your left,' Tisch said at a recruiting event in early January, modifying the Harvard Law School warning to first-year students. 'Probably none of you will get in here.'"
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: April 2, 2012
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4010 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
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 28, 2012
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5283 words)

Inside the Mind of a Runaway CEO

Heyman found an apartment in Rio with a bunch of twentysomething international travelers and slipped easily into the singles beach and party scene. When we spoke by phone in mid-November, he confided that his old life at Infosurv seemed a distant memory. "Going back there is not Plan A," he said. "It's very possible that that part of my life is behind me." His biggest frustration: Because he was spending so much time with non-Brazilians, he wasn't picking up Portuguese as quickly as he would have liked. So he moved after a month or so. By December, he was on the island of Florianópolis, in southern Brazil. His days consisted of riding a rented motorcycle to the beach, practicing his kite surfing, and then working out—mainly yoga and a regimen called P90X. His Portuguese was improving, thanks to a widening circle of Brazilian friends. "I have the vocabulary of a 5-year-old, but I can get my point across," Heyman said. "The biggest thing I've learned so far is that I have a gear I didn't know existed. I look back on my life, and I've always been a very go-go person. I have been very achievement oriented all my life. And it is surprising to me that I can get into this gear where it is not about achievement. Maybe I was due for a break."
SOURCE:Inc.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 1, 2011
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4361 words)