The real problem with Davos: not enough focus on small business

It’s interesting the tweets I’m getting.

@semipro writes: “@Scobleizer have we not come to expect way too much out of those meetings? They never produce anything and are a waste of time and money!”

@spotcher writes: “@Scobleizer davos is for the good times. there are no solutions to this mess. it has to play itself out.”

I disagree with both viewpoints. Davos has many excesses (at least last year. This year things are much more somber) but when you bring many of the world’s politicians and rich people together you can get lots of changes. On the bus ride here I met a few non-profits who say that Davos is invaluable for them to make new contacts and convince the world’s rich to support their efforts. Bill Gates’ foundation got mentioned several times on the bus ride in.

But, to me, I still haven’t heard much about how we’ll really get out of this mess: create tons of new small businesses. Big companies will NOT pull us out of this mess. They won’t hire people in big numbers until AFTER the economy starts turning around.

For me this all came to a head after reading Andrew Field’s pleas for help. Who is he? He runs Printing for Less. I interviewed him three years ago for PodTech. Back then his business was a growing one and was the darling of Montana’s rebuilding economy. Today? His business is under severe strain and might not survive the next few months, he wrote in Forbes.

Everyone should read his letter asking for a new kind of bailout
.

His pleas should be heard. It’s small businesses like Printing for Less that will pull the economy out of its problems. The problem is that small businesses are getting slammed. Here’s why:

1. Rich people have had their assets decimated by both the stock market and by Bernie Maddoff’s ponzi scheme. That makes them far less likely to invest in new, small, unproven businesses. Venture capital was down quite sharply last quarter, which proves this trend too.
2. Housing prices are way down in many communities. That means entrepreneurs can’t pull equity out of their homes to keep businesses running short term. My mom, to buy a bookstore, took a loan on her home. That would be impossible if she were alive today.
3. Customers have disappeared — maybe even permanently — as we all slow down our spending, start saving for the future. That means that many small businesses are struggling to make ends meet.

So, as I walk around the World Economic Forum I’m asking people “how will you help out Andrew Field?”

So far I’m not hearing a lot of answers and THAT is the real problem with Davos.

I’ll report if I hear any good ideas. Do you have any?

By the way, I’m tracking all Davos news over on the friendfeed Davos room.

TurnHere for interesting recession-resistant video business

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Well, I can see that on my last post I went too far in pushing a point that corporate bloggers don’t live under the same rules that unemployed bloggers do. In any case, this next video demonstrates why I’m not going to go to the PDC even better than worrying about my feelings.

Today I visited TurnHere.com. Some facts. Profitable. 60 core employees. 7,000 paid contractors. Hundreds of new videos per day.

But in talking with them I realized they are a recession-resistant business and thought what I learned from them is important to highlight. Why are they recession-resistant?

1. High value for low price. Their customers are small businesses who don’t know how to use Apple’s FinalCut Pro or how to tell a story with video. It’s not easy, as I joke around about in the video “I don’t have talent.” They charge less than a grand to do the videos, a videographer shows up, spends an hour or two interviewing and shooting, then goes home and edits together a pretty nice video. I sat in their meeting today where they showed off a couple and they were nice quality, the kinds of things that a small business would find invaluable for their website, etc.
2. Distribution. They are on Yellowpages.com, Citysearch, and other places. I can’t get my videos onto the Yellowpages.com, so they have defendable and high volume distribution that small businesses are willing to pay for.
3. Few salespeople but lots of revenues. They outsourced their sales team to Yellowpages and Citysearch and their other business partners. Those business partners bring them tons of revenues and distribution. That’s a neat business that I admire.
4. Low-cost production. They have hand trained 7,000 videographers around the world who make the videos. That might seem expensive, but not really. There are a lot of people who have decent video equipment out there (decent being a $500 camera, a $200 tripod, and a $300 microphone, along with a fairly beefy Mac and Final Cut Pro) who often have day jobs working at TV stations and making movies. They get hired for a few hundred bucks to make the videos.
5. Rapid iteration and quality control. The team meets every afternoon to watch a couple of videos from that day’s videos. That ensures that quality stays high (no one wants to put a crappy video in front of their teammates) and increases the ideas that come from the team.

Anyway, I asked off camera if they had seen any effect yet (I’m hearing small businesses are having a rough time right now, so wondered if they had seen any effect). They have not, the execs say, and their sales are up. Since it’s a private company I can’t verify those claims, but the product and team seem very good and it’s nice to see a business with real revenues and a real business plan (and a good reputation, I’ve been getting nice notes from people since Twittering that I was visiting this afternoon).

Oh, this video is the first I did with a new Nokia N96 cell phone that Nokia sent me to try out. It’s nice, but since it doesn’t work with AT&T’s 3G yet it will be hard for me to use for my live videos, but for things like this it works very well. My wife just bought a Flip cam too, so we’ll do some comparisons.

I’m using Viddler for this video and am very impressed. Last week I put a couple of videos up on Google Video and Viddler is a lot nicer to use for uploading and the player is much nicer too. Viddler videos are also embeddable in WordPress.com, while Google Videos are not. I’ll compare to Kyte soon (I like Kyte because it has a neat chat room and can be used with live, including recorded stuff like this).

Thanks TurnHere for showing me an interesting new business!