15 Must-Reads For Entrepreneurs: From Bankruptcy And Food Stamps To A $40-Million Quilting Empire

Tim Pannell for Forbes

News and insights from around the Web:

Small Giants

The Doan family went from bankruptcy and food stamps to starting the Missouri Star Quilt Co., a YouTube sensation that turned a tiny town into a tourist destination: "Nine years later, [Jenny Doan's] 500-plus videos have logged 135 million views and lifted annual revenue at the family’s online fabric retailer, Missouri Star Quilt Co.,to an estimated $40 million. Betting that the company would get a leg up on competitors if it had a place where Jenny’s YouTube fans could see her in person, the Doans have remade the one-stoplight town of Hamilton, Missouri (pop. 1,900), into what they call 'the Disneyland of quilting,' attracting as many as 8,000 tourists a month." (Learn about the rest of our 2018 Forbes Small Giants.)

Unlike most advertising agencies, Zulu Alpha Kilo refuses to compete for clients without getting paid for their work: "Mroueh had long questioned the practice, which struck him as unfair, wasteful and borderline unethical, and Zulu finally stopped doing it after losing a bid in 2011 because it didn't have an office in Montreal--even though it had invested $120,000 to create a spec campaign that the client admitted was superior to the others submitted. Beyond forbidding the agency to do any more spec work, Mroueh launched a campaign against the practice--"#SayNoToSpec"--including producing videos showing how ridiculous it would be in any other business. Early on, Zulu's refusal to do spec probably cost it tens of millions of dollars. Over time, however, the stance earned respect, and prospective clients began to sign on without a formal pitch. Today the agency has 100 employees and $16.7 million in annual revenue from clients such as Tim Hortons, Bell Canada, Whirlpool and Uber."

Silicon Valley

Over the weekend, Ryan Caldbeck, CEO of CircleUp, which helps consumer goods startups raise money, unleashed a Twitter thread on what it's like to be CEO of a Silicon Valley company: " I feel incredibly lonely. As CEO it’s hard to fully open up about my company and it’s hard to find other CEOs who are willing to be vulnerable and talk honestly about the hard things. The 'we’re crushing it' CEO just makes me close down more. ... I feel tired- mentally and physically – constantly. I sleep less well than I ever have in my life- and almost never am able to catch up on sleep. Not because I’m so busy, but because my mind races and refuses to rest. This has been my reality for 6 years."

Elon Musk wants to rate the credibility of journalists, but how credible is he? "The most important unfulfilled promise by Tesla may be an implicit one: to deliver a quality product. Recent reports on Model 3s purchased at retail by professional reviewers have been brutal. Consumer Reports this month declined to recommend the car, citing inordinately long braking distances, distracting controls and poor riding comfort. The most gruesome review came from the respected auto shopping site Edmunds, which has been subjecting a $56,000 Model 3 to routine usage for four months. 'We put down a $1,000 deposit to get on a two-year waiting list for this car,' Edmunds reported this month, 'and it's falling apart.'"

Cannabusiness

With 12 shops and a $1.6 billion valuation, Medmen wants to be the Apple of cannabis retailers: "That's how Culver City firm MedMen describes its pot shops in documents submitted as part of the company's most audacious plan yet: to become the nation's most valuable public cannabis company, worth more than $1 billion. MedMen, which has yet to post a profit, is not staging a traditional initial public offering. Instead, it's acquiring and taking over an existing public shell. What's more, the company's shares, when they begin trading in the coming days, won't be listed on the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. Instead, they'll be on the Canadian Securities Exchange, a second-tier stock market in Toronto that's become a haven for cannabis companies."

Finance

Here's a blistering look at what it really took to raise a $2 million seed round: "Then, the big institutional investor went totally silent. Like, completely and totally silent. Not one of the four people I had been communicating with would respond to an email, and to this day (more than two years later), I have no idea what happened. I had to start looking for a brand new lead investor. All throughout the program, as I grew increasingly pregnant, I took meeting after meeting, following the instruction provided by Techstars about how to take a great investor meeting. I am a good student, so I was doing the things. What I didn’t know then was actually how to find the right investor to meet with. So I spent a lot of time lumbering up and down hallways, waiting with my bottle of water in conference rooms, and speaking to people who would then make it very clear I was not in the right place. Some of them wanted us to be building an entirely different business. One angel group wanted our crowdfunding platform to have 3x the traction of Kickstarter before they would consider an angel investment. You can read that sentence again, because I asked them for clarification twice and that’s what they confirmed with me. What I didn’t know then is that’s just a really dick-ish way of saying no. To be fair, Boston is a ridiculous place to fundraise for a content business, and I’m not saying anything about Boston it doesn’t already know."

Here are 19 podcasts about starting up and raising venture capital: For example: "It’s not easy being a founder and lady founders have it tougher than many. Amanda Boleyn’s 'She Did It Her Way' program challenges women to follow their dreams and start their own businesses and offers coaching and guidance to help them get it done. Her podcast collects the stories of countless lady founders who worked hard and built companies they’re proud of. Learn from the likes of Sarena Bahad, Giovanna Silvestre, and Renee Diresta."

Human Resources

The Supreme Court has made it harder for employees to pursue claims as part of a class action: "The ruling came in three cases — potentially involving tens of thousands of nonunion employees — brought against Ernst & Young LLP, Epic Systems Corp. and Murphy Oil USA Inc. Each required its individual employees, as a condition of employment, to waive their rights to join a class-action suit. In all three cases, employees tried to sue together, maintaining that the amounts they could obtain in individual arbitration were dwarfed by the legal fees they would have to pay. Ginsburg's dissent noted that a typical Ernst & Young employee would likely have to spend $200,000 to recover only about $1,900 in overtime pay."

In Mexico, a Tequila brand is produced almost exclusively by women: "Raza Azteca produces 100 percent tequila, which is not mixed with sugar or chemical flavors, for three in-house brands — El Conde Azul, Espectacular and Leyenda de México — as well as for other companies, such as La Gritona, Sino Tequila and La Quiere. ... 'When I started the company, I put out job ads for women and men,' Ms. Barajas Cárdenas said. 'But here in the little towns, there are more women than men because a lot of the men have left to look for job opportunities in the U.S.A.' So women filled all the openings, including those that are traditionally performed by men. 'From the girls in the agave fields to those who cook the agave, process the fermentation, it’s all women,' she said. 'Some of it is really hard work, like cutting the agave. Most men could do this faster. But it’s not something women can’t do. It just takes a little bit more time.'"

When Google increased paid maternity leave, the rate at which new mothers quit fell 50%: "'It may sound counterintuitive, but the research—and Google’s own experience—shows a generous paid maternity leave actually increases retention,' she wrote in a Jan. 27 blog post for the Huffington Post. 'When women are given a short leave, or they’re pressured to be on call, some decide it’s just not worth it to return.' ... But the tech industry is beginning to gain recognition for bucking the trend. Last year, Virgin Group and Netflix extended paid leave to a year for new parents. In November, Amazon expanded its benefits to 20 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers, with the option to share six weeks of paid leave with a partner. Gaming company Unity said earlier this month that new parents will be offered 12 weeks of paid leave, with the ability to work part-time for eight weeks while earning full-time pay. These changes do more than to make new mothers feel welcomed in the workplace. Because turnover is costly for businesses—by one estimate it costs 20% or more of an employee’s salary to replace him or her—companies, too, benefit from keeping female employees and their expertise."

The truck driver shortage is getting worse: "Joyce Brenny, head of Brenny Transportation in Minnesota, increased driver pay 15 percent this year to try to attract more drivers. Many of her drivers now earn $80,000, she says, yet she still can't find enough people for the job. About 51,000 more drivers are needed to meet the demand from companies such as Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across the country, according to the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage is already leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices for goods that Americans buy. The ATA predicts that it's likely to get worse in the coming years. Many trucking companies are so desperate for drivers that they are offering signing bonuses and pay raises. So why don't more Americans want this job? We asked truck drivers who have been doing the job anywhere from four months to 40 years for their views. Most said the answer is simple: The lifestyle is rough."

Intellectual Property

Hasbro has successfully trademarked the smell of Play Doh: "According to the patent and trademark office, other active trademarks for scents, smells, odors and fragrances include the 'flowery musk scent' used in Verizon stores and a bubble gum scent used for shoes and flip flops by the retailer Grendene. Cherry, grape and strawberry scents were trademarked for lubricants used for land and water vehicles by Manhattan Oil. And jewelry company Le Vian trademarked a chocolate scent for its stores."

Customer Service

As Starbucks closes for a day of racial-sensitivity training, a group of black-owned coffee shops in Philadelphia is offering an alternative: Red Bay Coffee is hosting the roundtable on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse to discuss how to stop retail racism and how to support black-owned businesses. So for starters, here's a list of five to try out. And here's a list of 47 across the U.S. The roundtable will morph into a tour of two other black-owned coffee shops, too. Here's all the information you need on the event."

Going Global

Can a P.F. Chang's location succeed in Shanghai? "'If Chinese want to have something Western they usually prefer traditional American food or other Western food, rather than something like Chinese American food,' said Shirley Lu, a Shanghai-based analyst for Euromonitor International, a market research firm. 'This kind of food can attract the foreigners in China, maybe.' The restaurant's opening also drew skepticism in the U.S., where the Trump administration is threatening China with billions of dollars in tariffs. David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, had his own theory for the chain's expansion to Shanghai. 'Trump continues to explore new U.S. imposed punitive sanctions on China,' he tweeted."

The Economy

Gas prices are up 31% from last Memorial Day: "AAA says that fifteen states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, are already facing $3 average gas prices or higher. Gas in California and Hawaii, traditionally two of the priciest states, is north of $3.70 a gallon. Here's why gasoline prices are getting uncomfortably high."

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Tim Pannell for Forbes

News and insights from around the Web:

Small Giants

The Doan family went from bankruptcy and food stamps to starting the Missouri Star Quilt Co., a YouTube sensation that turned a tiny town into a tourist destination: "Nine years later, [Jenny Doan's] 500-plus videos have logged 135 million views and lifted annual revenue at the family’s online fabric retailer, Missouri Star Quilt Co.,to an estimated $40 million. Betting that the company would get a leg up on competitors if it had a place where Jenny’s YouTube fans could see her in person, the Doans have remade the one-stoplight town of Hamilton, Missouri (pop. 1,900), into what they call 'the Disneyland of quilting,' attracting as many as 8,000 tourists a month." (Learn about the rest of our 2018 Forbes Small Giants.)

Unlike most advertising agencies, Zulu Alpha Kilo refuses to compete for clients without getting paid for their work: "Mroueh had long questioned the practice, which struck him as unfair, wasteful and borderline unethical, and Zulu finally stopped doing it after losing a bid in 2011 because it didn't have an office in Montreal--even though it had invested $120,000 to create a spec campaign that the client admitted was superior to the others submitted. Beyond forbidding the agency to do any more spec work, Mroueh launched a campaign against the practice--"#SayNoToSpec"--including producing videos showing how ridiculous it would be in any other business. Early on, Zulu's refusal to do spec probably cost it tens of millions of dollars. Over time, however, the stance earned respect, and prospective clients began to sign on without a formal pitch. Today the agency has 100 employees and $16.7 million in annual revenue from clients such as Tim Hortons, Bell Canada, Whirlpool and Uber."

Silicon Valley

Over the weekend, Ryan Caldbeck, CEO of CircleUp, which helps consumer goods startups raise money, unleashed a Twitter thread on what it's like to be CEO of a Silicon Valley company: " I feel incredibly lonely. As CEO it’s hard to fully open up about my company and it’s hard to find other CEOs who are willing to be vulnerable and talk honestly about the hard things. The 'we’re crushing it' CEO just makes me close down more. ... I feel tired- mentally and physically – constantly. I sleep less well than I ever have in my life- and almost never am able to catch up on sleep. Not because I’m so busy, but because my mind races and refuses to rest. This has been my reality for 6 years."

Elon Musk wants to rate the credibility of journalists, but how credible is he? "The most important unfulfilled promise by Tesla may be an implicit one: to deliver a quality product. Recent reports on Model 3s purchased at retail by professional reviewers have been brutal. Consumer Reports this month declined to recommend the car, citing inordinately long braking distances, distracting controls and poor riding comfort. The most gruesome review came from the respected auto shopping site Edmunds, which has been subjecting a $56,000 Model 3 to routine usage for four months. 'We put down a $1,000 deposit to get on a two-year waiting list for this car,' Edmunds reported this month, 'and it's falling apart.'"

Cannabusiness

With 12 shops and a $1.6 billion valuation, Medmen wants to be the Apple of cannabis retailers: "That's how Culver City firm MedMen describes its pot shops in documents submitted as part of the company's most audacious plan yet: to become the nation's most valuable public cannabis company, worth more than $1 billion. MedMen, which has yet to post a profit, is not staging a traditional initial public offering. Instead, it's acquiring and taking over an existing public shell. What's more, the company's shares, when they begin trading in the coming days, won't be listed on the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. Instead, they'll be on the Canadian Securities Exchange, a second-tier stock market in Toronto that's become a haven for cannabis companies."

Finance

Here's a blistering look at what it really took to raise a $2 million seed round: "Then, the big institutional investor went totally silent. Like, completely and totally silent. Not one of the four people I had been communicating with would respond to an email, and to this day (more than two years later), I have no idea what happened. I had to start looking for a brand new lead investor. All throughout the program, as I grew increasingly pregnant, I took meeting after meeting, following the instruction provided by Techstars about how to take a great investor meeting. I am a good student, so I was doing the things. What I didn’t know then was actually how to find the right investor to meet with. So I spent a lot of time lumbering up and down hallways, waiting with my bottle of water in conference rooms, and speaking to people who would then make it very clear I was not in the right place. Some of them wanted us to be building an entirely different business. One angel group wanted our crowdfunding platform to have 3x the traction of Kickstarter before they would consider an angel investment. You can read that sentence again, because I asked them for clarification twice and that’s what they confirmed with me. What I didn’t know then is that’s just a really dick-ish way of saying no. To be fair, Boston is a ridiculous place to fundraise for a content business, and I’m not saying anything about Boston it doesn’t already know."

Here are 19 podcasts about starting up and raising venture capital: For example: "It’s not easy being a founder and lady founders have it tougher than many. Amanda Boleyn’s 'She Did It Her Way' program challenges women to follow their dreams and start their own businesses and offers coaching and guidance to help them get it done. Her podcast collects the stories of countless lady founders who worked hard and built companies they’re proud of. Learn from the likes of Sarena Bahad, Giovanna Silvestre, and Renee Diresta."

Human Resources

The Supreme Court has made it harder for employees to pursue claims as part of a class action: "The ruling came in three cases — potentially involving tens of thousands of nonunion employees — brought against Ernst & Young LLP, Epic Systems Corp. and Murphy Oil USA Inc. Each required its individual employees, as a condition of employment, to waive their rights to join a class-action suit. In all three cases, employees tried to sue together, maintaining that the amounts they could obtain in individual arbitration were dwarfed by the legal fees they would have to pay. Ginsburg's dissent noted that a typical Ernst & Young employee would likely have to spend $200,000 to recover only about $1,900 in overtime pay."

In Mexico, a Tequila brand is produced almost exclusively by women: "Raza Azteca produces 100 percent tequila, which is not mixed with sugar or chemical flavors, for three in-house brands — El Conde Azul, Espectacular and Leyenda de México — as well as for other companies, such as La Gritona, Sino Tequila and La Quiere. ... 'When I started the company, I put out job ads for women and men,' Ms. Barajas Cárdenas said. 'But here in the little towns, there are more women than men because a lot of the men have left to look for job opportunities in the U.S.A.' So women filled all the openings, including those that are traditionally performed by men. 'From the girls in the agave fields to those who cook the agave, process the fermentation, it’s all women,' she said. 'Some of it is really hard work, like cutting the agave. Most men could do this faster. But it’s not something women can’t do. It just takes a little bit more time.'"

When Google increased paid maternity leave, the rate at which new mothers quit fell 50%: "'It may sound counterintuitive, but the research—and Google’s own experience—shows a generous paid maternity leave actually increases retention,' she wrote in a Jan. 27 blog post for the Huffington Post. 'When women are given a short leave, or they’re pressured to be on call, some decide it’s just not worth it to return.' ... But the tech industry is beginning to gain recognition for bucking the trend. Last year, Virgin Group and Netflix extended paid leave to a year for new parents. In November, Amazon expanded its benefits to 20 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers, with the option to share six weeks of paid leave with a partner. Gaming company Unity said earlier this month that new parents will be offered 12 weeks of paid leave, with the ability to work part-time for eight weeks while earning full-time pay. These changes do more than to make new mothers feel welcomed in the workplace. Because turnover is costly for businesses—by one estimate it costs 20% or more of an employee’s salary to replace him or her—companies, too, benefit from keeping female employees and their expertise."

The truck driver shortage is getting worse: "Joyce Brenny, head of Brenny Transportation in Minnesota, increased driver pay 15 percent this year to try to attract more drivers. Many of her drivers now earn $80,000, she says, yet she still can't find enough people for the job. About 51,000 more drivers are needed to meet the demand from companies such as Amazon and Walmart that are shipping more goods across the country, according to the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage is already leading to delayed deliveries and higher prices for goods that Americans buy. The ATA predicts that it's likely to get worse in the coming years. Many trucking companies are so desperate for drivers that they are offering signing bonuses and pay raises. So why don't more Americans want this job? We asked truck drivers who have been doing the job anywhere from four months to 40 years for their views. Most said the answer is simple: The lifestyle is rough."

Intellectual Property

Hasbro has successfully trademarked the smell of Play Doh: "According to the patent and trademark office, other active trademarks for scents, smells, odors and fragrances include the 'flowery musk scent' used in Verizon stores and a bubble gum scent used for shoes and flip flops by the retailer Grendene. Cherry, grape and strawberry scents were trademarked for lubricants used for land and water vehicles by Manhattan Oil. And jewelry company Le Vian trademarked a chocolate scent for its stores."

Customer Service

As Starbucks closes for a day of racial-sensitivity training, a group of black-owned coffee shops in Philadelphia is offering an alternative: Red Bay Coffee is hosting the roundtable on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse to discuss how to stop retail racism and how to support black-owned businesses. So for starters, here's a list of five to try out. And here's a list of 47 across the U.S. The roundtable will morph into a tour of two other black-owned coffee shops, too. Here's all the information you need on the event."

Going Global

Can a P.F. Chang's location succeed in Shanghai? "'If Chinese want to have something Western they usually prefer traditional American food or other Western food, rather than something like Chinese American food,' said Shirley Lu, a Shanghai-based analyst for Euromonitor International, a market research firm. 'This kind of food can attract the foreigners in China, maybe.' The restaurant's opening also drew skepticism in the U.S., where the Trump administration is threatening China with billions of dollars in tariffs. David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, had his own theory for the chain's expansion to Shanghai. 'Trump continues to explore new U.S. imposed punitive sanctions on China,' he tweeted."

The Economy

Gas prices are up 31% from last Memorial Day: "AAA says that fifteen states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, are already facing $3 average gas prices or higher. Gas in California and Hawaii, traditionally two of the priciest states, is north of $3.70 a gallon. Here's why gasoline prices are getting uncomfortably high."

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I oversee entrepreneurial coverage at Forbes, including the Entrepreneurs channel. Before that, I was small-business editor of the New York Times, where I started the Yo...