Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Posts From Richard Branson in 2014

When it comes to launching a business, serial entrepreneur Richard Branson has “been there, done that” several times over. Starting with the student magazine he co-created at 16, Branson has founded many, many enterprises, most notably the Virgin Group. Luckily for the next generation of entrepreneurs, he’s eager to open up about the lessons he’s learned along the way.

From his top 10 tips to succeeding at business, to the importance of building a support system, to the necessity of finding your passion project, here are the most popular columns Branson shared with readers this past year.

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Entrepreneur’s 10 Most Popular Leadership Stories of 2014

Everyone has a unique management style, but this year, our writers and contributors found that the most effective leaders have an ability to discover unexpected opportunities, share ideas in a way that gets other people excited and surround themselves with smart, passionate people.

Here are Entrepreneur‘s top 10 leadership stories of 2014.

10. For Better Conversations, Replace ‘How Are You?’ With This One Phrase
A strong leader is a great communicator – someone who’s both an inquisitive conversationalist and an engaged, active listener.  Everyone wants to be heard, and etiquette coach and entrepreneur Jacqueline Whitmore says you can start connecting better by asking more open-ended questions, such as “Tell me, what did you enjoy the most about the conference?”

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The Top 10 Summer Vacation Destinations for 2014

Let’s face it: Starting a company and growing it into something awesome takes a lot of work. And a lot of work usually requires a lot of time. And when you work really hard all the time, well, there’s a point where you’re most likely going to break down.

If this sounds anything like your current situation, now might be the perfect time to consider a serious summer vacation. Leave your company and other duties in the hands of someone you trust and get away. Relax. Recharge. Come back with renewed passion, energy and perspective.

Turns out, U.S. and international leisure travel are both expected to be up this year compared to 2013, according to a recent survey from popular travel website TripAdvisor and research firm Ipsos. Seventy-seven percent of people said they planned to travel internationally for pleasure this year, up 12 percent from 2013’s 65 percent. Meanwhile, 90 percent said they plan to travel within the U.S., compared to 87 percent last year.

For those considering a domestic U.S. summer vacation, the harsh winter has inspired many travelers to pack their bags and hit the road. Eighteen percent cited the Polar Vortex as a reason to get out of town this summer, according to TripAdvisor’s annual summer travel surveyof more than 2,500 U.S. respondents. And despite higher gas prices, 36 percent of respondents plan to spend more money on their leisure summer travel in 2014 than last year.

From beaches to cities to national parks, here are the top 10 U.S. summer destinations, according to TripAdvisor:

1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
2. Las Vegas, Nevada
3. New York City, New York
4. Destin, Florida
5. Ocean City, Maryland
6. Orlando, Florida
7. Virginia Beach, Virginia
8. San Francisco, California
9. San Diego, California
10. Key West, Florida

If you’re among those inclined for a little more adventure, you might consider the global results of TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards. TripAdvisor says the top destination winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the “quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, attractions and restaurants in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period.” While this survey wasn’t pegged specifically to summer travel, it could give interested vacationers some ideas.

The top 10 destinations among world travelers for 2014 are (+/- denotes change in ranking year-over-year):

1. Istanbul, Turkey (+11)
2. Rome, Italy (+2)
3. London, England (0)
4. Beijing, China (+17)
5. Prague, Czech Republic (+4)
6. Marrakech, Morocco (+13)
7. Paris, France (-6)
8. Hanoi, Vietnam (New)
9. Siem Reap, Cambodia (+14)
10. Shanghai, China (+12)

Where are you planning to head off to for a much-needed vacation this summer?

Under the Radar: 10 Startups to Watch in 2014

Under the Radar: 10 Startups to Watch in 2014
Entreprenuers sacrifice sleepless nights and their life’s savings in pursuit of building a product or a service that not only fills a need but changes people’s lives. In the world of startups, we’re all watching and waiting for the next big thing — for a company to come out of nowhere, do something amazing and make a ton of money; hopefully changing the world along the way.
Entrepreneur.com partnered with the folks who produce Social Media Week to curate this list of 10 startups that have the potential to do big things in 2014. The companies on this list are making marketable ideas come to life, have raised considerable amounts of money, and are gaining traction with customers.
We’ll formally present these startups at an event during Social Media Week here in New York City on Tuesday.
Of course, we can’t guarantee that any of these companies will be the next Facebook or Foursquare. But these companies are certainly making waves in their respective industries and worth keeping a close eye on this year.

Oscar

Oscar

Founders: Mario Schlosser, Kevin Nazemi and Josh Kushner

When founded: July 2013

With President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act beginning to take hold, America’s health insurance industry is like new frontier for entrerpeneurs. At least, that’s what the founders of New York City-based Oscar are betting on. Having already raised $70 million in two rounds of funding, this startup is aiming to mix tech, design and data to “humanize” healthcare.

In the first several weeks since its launch, Oscar has already enrolled “thousands” of customers and has “tens of millions” of dollars in annual revenue.

Is heathcare sexy? Not really. But Oscar came to market just in time to capitalize on a huge opportunity.

Dash
Dash

Founders: Jamyn Edis (CEO) and Brian Langel (CTO)
When founded: June 2012
By now you’ve heard of the Internet of Things. Yes, your gadgets, devices and everything inbetween are becoming connected to the internet. The industry is just starting to take off.
Enter Dash, a Techstars-funded, connected car platform which turns any car into a “smart” car. It’s a tiny device that plugs into your vehicle’s diagnostics port (works with any vehicle made after 1996) that can read information about your vehicle, its performance (hint: learn how you can drive more economically) and location. It connects via Bluetooth to an Android-compatible mobile app. An iPhone version is “coming soon.”
So, if your car breaks down, Dash can tell you exactly what’s wrong and even give you an estimate of how much it’ll cost to fix. If your car is in accident, you and your loved ones can be notified in real time. Pretty sweet.
Humin
Humin

Founders: Ankur Jain, Daniel Pourbaba, David Wyler, Jake Medwelland Jonathan Shriftman
When founded: 2013
What makes a smartphone “smart”? Is it simply because it’s connected to the internet? The founders behind San Francisco-based Humin want to make smartphones truly intelligent.
Humin has rebuilt the phone app to remember people by the way you’ve come to know them. When you meet someone new, Humin can help you remember the context around the moment. So, instead of an alphabetical contact list, Humin has created an engine that lets you search with terms like “met last week” or “lives in Austin.”
Humin integrates seamlessly with email, calendar, contacts, Facebook and LinkedIn, so it disappears into the background, helping you connect with the people who are relevant to you, the company says.
YPlan
YPlan

Founders: Rytis Vitkauskas (CEO) and Viktoras Jucikas (CTO)
When founded: February 2012
Let’s face it, who couldn’t use a little help planning last minute yet awesome nights out on the town? The founders of YPlan want to make the process of finding and paying for tickets to a curated list of events such as concerts, theater performances and comedy shows as easy as a couple clicks on a smartphone.
Right now the app is only available in London and New York City, but it has been downloaded some 500,000 times in just about a year. Spontaneously social individuals will want to keep an eye on Yplan as it expands.
Harry’s
Harry's

Founders: Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeffrey Raider
When founded: March 2013
Jeffrey Raider had a hit on his hand when he co-founded eyewear sensation Warby Parker. He’s hoping he can make magic happen twice as the co-founder of men’s shaving startup Harry’s.
Shaving is an ages-old industry so what can Harry’s do that hasn’t already been done forever? It goes beyond hawking blades, handles and creams to perfecting exceptional “shaving experiences.”
“Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced, over-marketed razors that disrespect your intelligence, and low quality, cheap razors that disrespect your face,” the company says on its website. “We knew there had to be a better way, so we created Harry’s as a return to the essential: a great shave at a fair price.”
It turns out Raider and co-founder Andy Katz-Mayfield aren’t the only ones banking on the potential of stylish shaving tools. So far, the New York City-based company has raised more than $120 million in funding.
In addition to a good shave, Harry’s also cares about community. The company donates 1 percent of its sales and at least 1 percent of its time to local organizations that “prepare people for personal and professional success.”
ThinkUp
ThinkUp

Founders: Anil Dash and Gina Trapani
When founded: July 2013
Ever wonder what kind of impact your personal social media efforts have on others? If so, you aren’t the only one. Lifehacker founding editor Gina Trapani and entrepreneur Anil Dash  have teamed up to create ThinkUp, an app that offers social media analytics for regular people.
Instead of charts and graphs focused on business metrics, ThinkUp uses plain language to tell users things like who their biggest fans are or which photos shared made people the happiest.
ThinkUp launched with a crowdfunding campaign that blew past its 1,000-subscriber goal in the first week of a month-long campaign. The service now has thousands of paid subscribers and tens of thousands of open source users who run the software on their own, the company says.
As we spend more time on social media, ThinkUp can help us average Joes better understand what all the fuss is about.
Plated
Plated

Founders: Josh Hix and Nick Taranto
When founded: 2012
New York City-based Plated.com is on a mission to help Americans eat better. Each week, seven recipes are featured on the Plated menu, including four healthy meat and fish options and three unique vegetarian dishes. You pick the recipe you want to prepare and eat, and Plated will deliver all of the pre-portioned meat, fish, spices, proteins, and produce — plus a chef-designed recipe card.
So, no more having to buy too much meat or spices for your simple dinner for one or two. “Plated.com uses tech and data-driven operations to remove waste from the broken American food supply chain,” the company says. Plated already delivers to 90 percent of the lower 48 states and is “doubling the business” every six weeks.
Rap Genius
Rap Genius

Founders: Tom Lehman, Mahbod Moghadam and Ilan Zechory
When founded: August 2009
What’s the lyric to that song you can’t get out of your head? Rap Genius knows. On RapGenius.com, artists and their fans explore lyrics interactively via line-by-line annotations they can read, create and edit as part of a “worldwide knowledge project.” “It is the Wikipedia of all text, including poetry, news, history, science, the Bible, fashion and much more,” the company says.
When it comes to flying under the radar, however, Rap Genius might be the exception on this list. The company came under fire recently after Google apparently banned the site after it admitted to trying to manipulate the way it turned up in Google search results. The site cleaned up its ways and returned to Google’s good graces.
Does Rap Genius have something to prove this year? Maybe. Despite the negative attention, the site’s growth is no joke: 30 million monthly unique visitors and 10 percent to 20 percent month-over-month growth, with more than 500,000 user accounts and $5,000 verified artist accounts. And financial backers like VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian doesn’t hurt, either.
Topi
Topi

Founder: David Aubespin
When founded: December 2011
David Aubespin started his career in research at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, working on making the web faster. He later joined Google as engineering manager and focused on online advertising and special projects for Google’s top-tier customers. Now, Aubespin wants to make networking at events super easy with his startup, Topi.
While meeting people at professional events by chance can be fun, it isn’t always most efficient. That’s where Topi can help. Event planners manage the app and communicate with attendees through Topi’s web site. It utilizes geofencing technology to know when individual attendees are physically at the event, and where.
Topi can also help help attendees identify like-minded peers, making the connection-finding process more strategic. Users log in using a social media account can connect virtually with other attendees via chat rooms.
When you’re at an event and looking to target a specific type of customer or meet a partner or investor, give Topi a try.
Samba
Samba

Founders: Barak Hachamov (CEO), Shay Erlichmen (CTO), Ronel Mor (Chief Creative) and Oren Meiri (Head of Client)
When founded: 2013
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Samba could be a game-changer for video communication. It is a video messaging app that records the recipient’s response as he or she watches the video messages.
In other words, users simply record a video message and flick to send. As the friend views the message, his or her reaction is recorded and automatically sent back, playing fully synchronized with the original message.
Samba was selected as a finalist for the SXSW 2014 Startup Accelerator competition. It plans to go live in the Apple Store “soon.”

3 Leadership Trends of 2014

What are the most innovative leadership methods being taught in business schools and implemented by CEOs? Below, read three trends taking hold this year.

1. Unlocking hidden strengths

Chris White, managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations at The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, tells Inc. that today’s best leaders are engaging in “endogenous resourcing,” an academic term that refers to finding unique ways to unlock employees’ hidden strengths. White explains that by focusing on building relationships with your employees, you can discover their full capabilities while also providing them with a feeling of ownership over their work and a greater sense of well-being. “There are positive physiological outcomes from this type of leadership that can be scaled to whole companies,” he says.

A good example of endogenous resourcing can be found in the leadership style of Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb. “He draws on individuals’ strengths in a way that is firm yet deferential and open,” White says. “He’s able to be collaborative but is also clear in his directions.”

White says that when new employees begin working at a Whole Foods store, they undergo a three-month trial period. At the end of that time, their team votes on whether they will keep the job or be fired. “This practice helps to build ownership and collective responsibility, which are all resources from within,” White says. “You can’t buy that stuff–you have to lead it.”

2. Giving second chances

Fred Keller, founder and CEO of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based plastics manufacturing company Cascade Engineering, has led his multimillion-dollar business based on a quote from 18th-century theologian and social reformer John Wesley: “Do all the good you can.”

Cascade, which Keller started in 1973, now has 15 business units around the world, producing auto parts, furniture components, waste containers, wind turbines, solar panels, and affordable water filters for the developing world. Cascade is one of the largest manufacturing business certified as a B Corporation, which means it has made a commitment to solving social and environmental problems and meets a lengthy set of performance, accountability, and transparency standards.

Keller, who also teaches sustainable business practices at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, says his leadership style is ruled by his heart first and his brain second. Cascade’s signature program is “Welfare to Career,” where the company brings aboard people who have been on government assistance for long periods. Keller says the program has saved the state of Michigan millions of dollars by getting people off the welfare rolls.

“It isn’t just about providing a job, it’s about providing a career,” Keller says. But it hasn’t been easy. “We had to learn how to change our culture to be more accepting and welcoming. Guess what? When we did this for people who have been on welfare it made our culture more positive throughout for everyone. And it turns out to be good for business.”

After the program took off and the culture changed, Cascade’s retention rates rose, as did employee satisfaction. About five years ago, Keller launched a new program to hire ex-felons.

Management policies like these are spreading, and taking on a greater importance all the time, Keller maintains. “There is an increasing sense that our politicians are not going to solve our problems. They have demonstrated that they can’t even keep the trains coming on time,” he says. “But then who is? It’s up to business leaders who align their businesses to solve some of the world’s problems.”

3. Implementing democracy

Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of project-management software company Clarizen, says the command-and-control style of leadership popular in decades past doesn’t work for today’s business environment. “People want a voice, people want to participate, and this requires democratic principles,” he says.

Nowogrodski attributes his company’s success to hiring the right people and leading democratically. He says he hires people who have three distinct characteristics–curiosity, modesty, and passion–or what he calls the “Clarizen DNA.”

Once you have people in place who exhibit those key traits, you can implement a democracy focused on individual participation and empowerment, he says.

“It requires all the principles of democracy: People can say whatever they want to say and you want to cultivate their voice and make sure they are outspoken. There needs to be a justice system where everyone is equal. This makes people feel as if they’re in a fair fight, things are possible instead of being dictated from above,” he says. “We make our employees feel like they contribute more than they ever did at other companies and are a part of a big story.”

What’s in Store for Business Travelers in 2014

The corporate travel industry represents the business traveler–an individual who is on-the-go, connected and savvy. The industry is always looking for ways to keep the attention and pique the interest of these customers who are constantly in motion.

Here’s a short list of trends that are here to stay for road warriors.

1. Staying connected. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration updated its rules on electronic device usage during flights, allowing travelers to stay connected even during takeoff and landing. When it comes to business travelers, airlines remember the 80/20 rule: While they make up only 20 percent of the travelers, business people represent  80 percent of the major airlines’ profits. This means that airlines, and now even the FAA, are laser-focused on business travelers. From ancillary benefits like in-flight WiFi to extra leg room, airlines understand that it’s important for business travelers to be comfortable and connected. Delta’s recent profit numbers show that this approach is working well.

2. Jumping the line. Airports are making travel easier for the business traveler.  From check-in to destination, TSA PreCheck is alleviating traveler stress. I use TSA PreCheck (because I have the coveted Global Entry status so I qualify automatically) every time I travel and for me it’s been a complete game changer. Recently I was in Chicago for work. On my return trip, I was the only person in the PreCheck line. I breezed through the line, with my shoes on, and had a minor celebrity moment as I received fascinated gazes from people wondering “Who is that guy?” Imagine how convenient this could be for a business traveler who’s on the road multiple times a month. To go from the entrance of the airport to the gate of your aircraft in 10 minutes will increase efficiency for the business traveler, allowing them to spend more time in the office instead of on the road. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how TSA limits this service so that it continues to be exclusive and time-saving for those travelers who have completed and passed the necessary background check.

3. Mobile apps. More airlines and hotels are including mobile applications as part of their standard service offerings. I recently went paperless for the first time when traveling. I was flying on United Airlines. Before my flight, United emailed me, prompted me to check-in on my smartphone and when I got to the airport I simply showed the gate agent my phone and that was it. It was such a pleasure and real convenience for me. For the business traveler, especially a true road warrior, printers might not always be accessible. So, the paperless option and updated flight information that’s available on airlines’ mobile applications is really wonderful.

For hotels, it’s a different story. Despite the hopes of hotel marketing departments,  many travelers aren’t downloading hotel mobile applications, which seem more like a marketing tactic for hotels as opposed to a useful tool for travelers. The issue here might be what I call “app overload.” For a mobile application to be valuable, it needs to provide a valuable service. My friend Drew Patterson has developed a mobile application called CheckMate, that allows travelers to check-in to their hotels from their mobile devices. I think the app is wonderful and will give lower functioning hotel mobile apps a run for their money.

4. The sharing economy. More leisure travelers are opting in to sharing economies when they travel, but for business travelers, hotels and rental cars are still the best bet. I think the sharing economy trend is really interesting. As it stands now though, I see it more as a trend for leisure travelers. The issue is liability. For an individual traveling on his or her own time, they can afford to take a risk. If people want to take a risk by getting into a privately-driven car through a ridesharing service such as Lyft, that’s their decision. But for business travelers, who are representing their company’s interests, the increased liability from a night at an Airbnb raises significant issues.

5. Profit focus. Airlines are promoting ancillary fees and “right sizing” aircraft, resulting in fuller planes and higher profits. After many years of boom and bust, the American airline industry has a group of savvy executives who understand the need to enforce capacity discipline and who have figured out how to merchandise their product. While these tactics have helped the airlines (with help from falling oil prices) to finally make money, for the business traveler, the use of “ancillary packaging” seems like nickel and diming.

-Courtesy: Inc.com

The Hottest Ecommerce Businesses to Start in 2014 (Infographic)

Being the big guy has its moments. Football, for example, tends to favor the larger fellows. But on the digital playing field, being little – as long as you’re fast and nimble – can be a win.

If you are looking for blockbuster ecommerce business ideas that favor the small, check out this infographic (below) from Austin, Texas-based ecommerce platform-making company Bigcommerce. Analyzing data provided by 50,000 of its own clients for the past year, Bigcommerce determined that auto, jewelry, toys and games and pet care are fast-growing areas where one-of-a-kind merchants are outperforming their big-box or chain store peers.

For example, auto e-tailers are beating the pants off the likes of AutoZone, independent sporting goods e-tailers are growing faster than REI and Cabela and ecommerce craft stores are hopscotching over big names like Jo-Ann and Hobby Lobby. By the same token, Toys-R-US and American Girl web stores are not growing as quickly as their smaller toy ecommerce counterparts, Bigcommerce data shows.

Here is the infographic with more granular data breaking down growth of revenue per store, size of order and number of stores in various online industries.

The Hottest Ecommerce Businesses to Start in 2014 (Infographic)

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com