The Best of Inc.'s Feature Stories in 2013
A Year in FeaturesThe Real Toll of Patent TrollsMade to Measure: J.Hilburn Gives Direct Selling Some Style Betrayed in China: One Entrepreneur's Hard Journey EastThe Github RevolutionThe Disciplined and the Divine: An Unlikely PartnershipTim Ferriss' 4-Hour Reality CheckInnovative Rebel: High-Tech Camera Maker Jim JannardBetween Venus and Mars: 7 Traits of True LeadersThe Whiskey RebellionDo Not Cross CrossfitResistance Is Futile: UberDebunking the Myth of InnovationIs This the World's Most Creative Manufacturer?Why the Series A Crunch Might Be a Good ThingAnatomy of a DealEtsy: Now Comes The Hard PartWhy Do Entrepreneurs Love Boulder? Company of the Year: Box
It may have been the year of listicle, but here at Inc. there were a few stories we couldn't tell in a few bullet points. They are stories of partnerships crumbling, of a scrappy David taking on a ruthless Goliath competitor. Of following your gut and succeeding valiantly. Or of losing everything. This is the best of the longform journalism published in Inc. over the past year. We hope you enjoy it.
Patent trolls come in many shapes and forms. They drain businesses of billions of dollars a year. And if you have a website--any website--you are a potential target.
In the February issue of Inc., Kris Frieswick breaks down how they have affected the American patent system, bringing wrath on small companies along the way. She meets founders whose companies have been targeted--and shaken down--by trolls, and also sheds light on what you need to know if they come after your business. Read it now.
Hil Davis took direct sales--a business model people love to hate--and gave it upscale polish. Inc. contributing writer Tom Foster says he was struck by the story of J.Hilburn, not only due to Davis's "Texas-size character" but also because Davis "ditched a lucrative career in finance to pursue an entrepreneurial dream and almost lost everything in the process, but he did it because he saw an opportunity to reinvent a business model before he even knew what product category or industry in which he would apply it." Read it now.
Adam Kasha was proud of his from-the-gut approach to doing business in China. Then his partnership with a Chinese trading agent went spectacularly bad, and he realized he was being taught a hard lesson in how things actually work. Inc. senior writer Burt Helm says he felt lucky in reporting, because Kasha was a "patient, generous source" who spent days in China with Helm retracing his steps.
Helm says: "He also provided me with emails between the two of them, which I ended up using in the story. It really brought an immediacy to the trouble both faced." Read it now.
Inc. editor-at-large Will Bourne gets to know the maker of the world's most powerful software-development tool. It all started as few friends' side project, but now Github is a brilliant business worth $750 million and growing at a stunning rate. Oh yeah, and your next business will be built on it. Read it now.
When Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan first noticed Alex and Ani on the Inc. 500 list of the country's fastest-growing companies, she remembers thinking it sounded like a "nice little business" unlikely to get much bigger.
The following year, the company had grown to $50 million in sales and 642 employees. So, Buchanan says: "I drove down to Rhode Island to interview the two and spent four hours listening to the most peculiar (and sort of endearing) founder-CEO dynamic I’d ever witnessed." Read it now.
Silicon Valley's productivity guru isn't an easy guy to pin down--so Inc. editor-at-large Tom Foster flew to Bali to find Tim Ferriss on what might have been the most demanding vacation ever. Together, they hiked to a tiny café atop terraced rice paddies, where, Foster says: "Our drinks arrived in coconut shells, and as we bonded there I snapped the portrait that ran with the story."
Foster's opinion of Ferriss evolved over the course of the trip; he says he expected to find a self-promoter, but found instead an extremely disciplined life-hacker. Read it now.
After founding Oakley--and selling it for $2.1 billion--Jim Jannard is taking on the film industry with Red, his high-tech-camera company. But playing the innovative rebel can work against you, especially in Hollywood.
Writer David H. Freedman digs into the origins of the innovative camera that makes digital recording look as good as film--and uncovers some serious lessons about bringing an expensive product to market along the way. Read it now.
The most effective leaders right now--men and women--are those who embrace traits once considered feminine, including empathy, vulnerability, and humility.
In reporting and writing this feature, Leigh Buchanan says: "I think what surprised--and perhaps disappointed--me most was how tough it was to find examples of famous women CEOs making a strength out of their feminine qualities. Male leaders felt so much more comfortable talking about their soft sides--presumably because they didn't think they had to prove something, and the women did." Read it now.
It's made in Cleveland. In a laboratory. In less than a week. And yes, it's real bourbon. Deal with it, Kentucky. John Grossman meets the serial entrepreneur who's fast-forwarded the bourbon-aging process.
His name is Tom Lix, founder and CEO of Cleveland Whiskey--and he's got a business plan almost as audacious as his process. Read it now.
"There was a point that spring when I felt like I saw CrossFit everywhere—on TV, in my neighborhood, and especially on Facebook, where old friends of mine had started posting obsessively about their best CrossFit times," says Inc. senior writer Burt Helm. Once he met Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit, Helm says he was blown away by how charismatic he was--and by how fast the business was growing.
He dug into the story--and even trained at several Crossfit gyms, or "boxes." He also attended a CrossFit certification class--and, to his surprise, passed. "I'm technically a CrossFit certified trainer now," Helm says. Read it now.
Uber, the car service that is not a car service, knows that any time it moves into a new city, it will face a fight. That's fine. Fighting is good, winning is better, and explosive growth is best of all.
Inc. sent senior writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin to Miami to start reporting this story. Turns out, Miami was the one place where Uber faced a real roadblock to launching. It's a story of a strong-willed, anti-establishment CEO at the helm of one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Read it now.
There's nothing wrong--and plenty that is right--with trying to innovate. But what if innovation is not the panacea it's said to be? Can't you simply work hard, heed your customers, and manage your business very, very well? Adam Bluestein breaks down the longstanding myths--and delivers the facts. Read it now.
"This is what crowdsourcing looks like when it really works. It works because instead of asking for money or labor, Quirky is asking people to share their dreams and giving them real incentives to participate," Josh Dean writes.
Dean explored how young, New York City-based entrepreneur Ben Kaufman has built a $50 million business, attracted $97 million in investment, and established a productive partnership with a giant of American industry. "For these reasons and others, Quirky might be the most important innovation engine in business today." Read it now.
Thousands of start-ups will go under for lack of Series A funding. That's a problem, all right. But not the problem you think.
Inc. contributing writer David H. Freedman examines why seed funding is so easy to get these days, and what's going on with companies that don't make it beyond that. Read it now.
Senior writer Jeremy Quittner, for the November issue of the magazine, took an in-depth look inside the sale of an Inc. 5000 company. A private equity firm offered him the rare inside look at the sale. It's the kind of story from which you might expect brinkmanship, twists and turns, and white-knuckle tension. You will not be disappointed. Read it now. (And while you're at it, check out Quittner's companion piece, Preparing Your Company for a Big Sale.)
What do you call a company that is growing rapidly, has hundreds of happy employees, and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars--but is still deeply troubled? You call it Etsy.
Tom Foster tells the story of Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson's distinctly 21st-century management challenge. "In a social-media savvy, super-connected world, business leaders are not just leaders of their teams and accountable to their investors; they are often leaders of passionate communities of buyers and sellers and members," Foster says. "Etsy is a stark example of that." Read it now.
There's the simple answer: clean air, clean living, and lots of cash to invest. But Inc. senior writer Burt Helm had several of his illusions shattered when he traveled to Boulder, Colorado, to report this feature from the December issue.
"I think everyone, including me, has a preconceived notion about Boulder Colorado--it’s hippie, it’s outdoorsy, it’s where trust-funders and smug liberals go to rock climb and smoke legalized weed," Helm says. But he found that thanks to VCs such as Brad Feld, it's become a Shangri-La for tech startups. Read it now.
The improbable but beautifully executed pivot. The prescience about technological change. The insight about what users want and need. Aaron Levie, the 28-year-old CEO of the billion-dollar cloud-computing company Box, just keeps getting it right.
Eric Markowitz explains that Levie is driven--almost to a fault--but his instincts don't seem to fail him. The takeaway: "sometimes, making a big bet based on your what your gut tells you is the right move," Markowitz says. Read it now.