Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • From $250,000 debt to $40 million sales: A small biz survival story

    CampusBookRentals founder and CEO Alan Martin

    In the years after racking up $250,000 in credit card debt to launch his startup, Alan Martin hit a couple of obstacles that he says “should have sunk us.” But his company, CampusBookRentals, survived and now, five years in business, projects 2013 sales of $40 million.

    His experience is a cautionary tale for any would-be business owner.

    Martin conceived his business idea while working his way through graduate school as a civilian contracts negotiator for the U.S. Air Force. Textbooks for his management classes were expensive, so he bought them used online, and sold them again at semester’s end. It occurred to him, he says, “I’m selling every book online for what I bought it for. If I could rent them out in between, it could be a cool service for students.”

    His wife, some friends, and he began saving credit card offers and set up shop in his Ogden, Utah, basement with a quarter million dollars in cash advances. He quit his job and the master’s degree program to build the company in phases:

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  • Rags-to-riches beach reading: the Barefoot Wine story

    Barefoot Wine founders Bonnie Harvey and Michael Houlihan

    Looking for a good book to get lost in this Memorial Day weekend? The Barefoot Spirit is an entertaining rags-to-riches story of American entrepreneurship. Released this week, the paperback has already climbed to the top of the Amazon bestsellers list.

    It’s the first-hand tale of California rule breakers Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, founders of the country’s top-selling wine brand. The couple conceived Barefoot Cellars in 1986, three years after they met in a Santa Rosa blues bar. They sold the business to E&J Gallo in 2005 for an undisclosed price that they say left them “satisfied.”

    Barefoot is famous for having rejected winemaking snobbery. Their colorful, plain-English labels marketed wine more like beer—a fun, not stuffy, beverage—with the slogan “get Barefoot and have a great time!” And by leaving the vintage and appellation, or grape harvest year and region, off their labels, the producer was free to blend a taste that was consistent year to year.

    Harvey says, “You shouldn’t

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  • Fun beach reading for small business inspiration

    The founders of Barefoot Wine spent 19 years transforming their industry before selling the brand to E&J Gallo in 2005. Today, Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey share their marketing and business savvy with other entrepreneurs and the nonprofit causes they support. (See our main story "Rags-to-riches beach reading: the Barefoot wine story.")

    Their book The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, released this week, is such an entertaining read that you won’t notice you’re digesting practical advice for anyone with a dream of business success.

    Yahoo! Small Business spoke with Houlihan and Harvey by phone from their Sonoma County home about how the “Barefoot spirit” and their experiences translate to other businesses.

    Yahoo! Small Business: What is "the Barefoot spirit?"

    Houlihan: Our book is really about the fundamental guiding principles we subscribed to that enabled us to overcome insurmountable challenges—not just with our business but in the

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  • Which businesses default on loans most? Surprising data

    When it comes to borrowing money, Vidur Dhanda says small businesses are not as risky as the banks think they are, and he has two terabytes of data to prove it.

    A data-modeling expert and long-time financial industry consultant, Dhanda began three years ago aggregating data points on nearly all U.S. businesses. He licensed several proprietary databases, tapped the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, and wrote algorithms to chart businesses' defaults on a wide range of debts such as credit cards, vehicle and equipment leases, loans, and lines of credit.

    Today, his company WAIN Street, named for its mission to bring Wall Street-style analysis to Main Street, publishes a monthly index that reports how well 18 million businesses in a variety of sectors and geographic regions are meeting their financial obligations. The WAIN Street Business Default Index is a unique barometer of the U.S. economy. And Dhanda says the data show that small businesses are far more reliable than big ones

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  • Startup offers DIY way to build a website in minutes

    Surveys show that more than half of small businesses still don't have websites. That number represents a huge opportunity to help busy people on budgets establish themselves online inexpensively and quickly. Among those competing for that prize is RebelMouse.

    CEO Paul Berry, who served as CTO at the Huffington Post for 5 years, founded RebelMouse a year ago because creating a good website should be as simple as “point, click, boom,” he says. “You shouldn’t need any developers or designers. Too many people are struggling too hard with their websites.”

    Meanwhile, Berry says many small businesses are starting to see a return on social media investments, but their posts are scattered all over the place, and quickly get buried in various platforms' chronological streams. The several million dollars in venture capital his idea has reeled in indicates Berry is not the only one who thinks this is a problem.

    The RebelMouse concept: Pull all of your Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and

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  • Why you should give neurotic colleagues a chance

    Personality types at work

    Workplace mangers and team leaders tend to have higher expectations of extraverts. People with more outgoing personalities are more likely to be stronger contributors on the job, employers assume. But when it comes to teamwork, UCLA business school professor and researcher Corinne Bendersky says that’s not necessarily the way things pan out.

    In a recent study, Bendersky and Neha Parekh Shah found that people with neurotic traits exceeded their colleagues’ expectations, while extraverts more often disappointed them.

    “A lot of staffing practice over-weights extraversion as a positive performance signal and sees neurotic cues as a negative performance signal,” Bendersky says. Her research shows that “those signals are not very accurate and the behaviors might not actually persist.”

    Bendersky notes: neither “extravert” nor “neurotic” is used as a derogatory label here, but as an academic terms. They’re just two of the “big 5” personality dimensions that scholars rely on to describe people.

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  • Would an Internet Sales Tax cost or win you customers?

    If you buy or sell over the Internet, you likely have an opinion on The Marketplace Fairness Act. And if you’re like most Americans surveyed earlier this month, you don’t like it one bit.

    The proposed law, which passed the Senate 10 days ago and now awaits vote in the House, would permit states to require some online retailers to collect appropriate local and state sales taxes. The law would only apply to sellers with at least $1 million in sales in states where they don’t have physical operations. And it would only apply to purchases made by customers in states where sales tax is already collected on similar purchases from non-online retailers.

    In fact, by law, consumers are already required to pay state sales tax on their online purchases. But when online retailers don’t collect, most consumers don’t voluntarily pay, and states have a hard time enforcing the law. The argument of those who support The Marketplace Fairness Act is that passing a bill allowing states to require retailers

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  • Generation Y gives entrepreneurship a new definition

    Infographic: The oDesk and Millennial Branding Spring 2013 Future of Work SurveyTo be an entrepreneur you need not own a business, risk your personal capital, create jobs, or even work your rump off. You just need to have a certain mindset. At least that’s the definition of entrepreneurship offered by the expanding freelance workforce.

    Survey results released today by the consulting firm Millennial Branding and oDesk reveal that 90 percent of independent workers and “solopreneurs” associate “being an entrepreneur” with having a mindset to “see opportunities, take risks, and make things happen,” rather than with having actually started a company. In fact, more than half of freelancers consider themselves to be entrepreneurs, according to survey results.

    On behalf of Millennial Branding and oDesk, Genesis Research Associates surveyed more than 3,000 freelancers worldwide—over 60 percent of them between 19 and 30 years old (a.k.a. “millennials” or members of Generation Y) to examine their perspectives on the future of work. Small business owners might say their

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  • Who founded Mother’s Day?

    AnnaMarieJarvisMother’s Day was founded in 1907 by a West Virginia woman as a tribute to her own mother. In her 40s, Anna Marie Jarvis, a college graduate, quit her job and incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association.

    Jarvis was so passionate about her vision that she succeeded within 6 years in persuading the governors of nearly every state in the union to embrace Mother’s Day. By 1914, she had won over the U.S. Congress. That year President Woodrow Wilson signed a Congressional resolution declaring the second Sunday in May the nation’s day to honor mothers (for their role in the family, however, not the public sphere).

    Rampant commercialization of Mother’s Day has kept it alive for a century, but the strong-willed Jarvis, ironically, detested any profiting from the holiday. She believed offspring should honor mothers with handmade gifts and letters, rather than with printed greeting cards and floral arrangements. So, after succeeding in seeing Mother’s Day widely adopted,

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  • Program pays small businesses to hire injured federal workers

    Would you seek out a new hire who was home with an injury collecting workers’ compensation insurance? What if the government paid you to?

    Partnership for Employment, an initiative of the nonpartisan group Women Impacting Public Policy, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, is designed to incentivize small businesses to hire government workers who are unable to return to their jobs due to an injury.

    WIPP board member Lisa Firestone, who has coordinated the pilot phase of the Partnership for Employment, calls it a “win-win-win” for government, small business, and injured workers.

    As the President and owner of Managed Care Advisors, Firestone’s specialty is assisting with the recovery and return to work of injured federal employees. As a government contractor, she also knows well the challenges of small businesses. Winning a contract can mean you need to staff up quickly. “Small businesses don’t have their own

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