2011 has come and gone, Christmas gifts have been unwrapped and we’re officially six days away from a new year. Below is a list of the best companies, organizations and people of 2011 that are making the world a better place…. and a couple that make it a worse one. Thankfully there is much more good than evil!
Virgin Galactic makes the list for keeping the dream of being an astronaut alive. As NASA launched their last space shuttle in 2011, Virgin Galactic is just gearing up and has already booked 430 people to travel into space beginning early 2012. The now privatized space industry is several times more efficient and cost effective than NASA or any other country’s space program ever was and will be sending many more people into space. For a mere $200,000 anyone can be an astronaut on Virgin Galactic’s spaceships. To learn more and book your trip visit Virgin Galactic.
Elon Musk, the South African entrepreneur knows that electric vehicles are the future and as a result the Tesla Roadster was born. The Roadster is a high end, all electric sports car only available to those with around $100K to spend on their vehicles. The luxury car maker is now making much more affordable vehicles and is selling the Model S at almost half the price. As the effort continues to make electric vehicles mainstream, they’ve partnered with Toyota to make an electric version of the RAV4 to make these alternative energy vehicles even more affordable. It’s only a matter of time before Tesla and other electric vehicle manufactures dominate the auto industry. Learn more at TeslaMotors.com.
Americans are mad and rightly so at top executives of our financial institutions because they rake in millions in salaries and bonuses, many at the expense of the taxpayer. Many “Wall Street” investment bankers are wealthy because they help companies get funding through initial public offerings (IPO’s) and provide other necessary services we have become dependent on. SecondMarket is entirely disrupting the financial industry by allowing many companies to skip the expensive process of an IPO entirely and has created a marketplace for company founders to receive funding directly from investors. Learn about this and other services they provide at SecondMarket.com.
Founded as a search engine to organize the web in the late 90′s, Google has launched product after product and the company now seems to run every aspect of our lives on the web. For several years Google has tried to create their own social network and with the launch of Google Plus this year it seems they’ve succeeded. With no signs of slowing down, Google continues to innovate and launch new products and it appears they are going to use G+ to tie all their products together to make the web a friendlier place. If you haven’t created a G+ account you can do so here and if you’d like to add me to your circle of friends you can find me here.
As AOL tries to stay relevant on the web, they get an A+ for effort for purchasing some of the best blogs in 2011 such as Huffington Post, TechCrunch and others. AOL owned the web in the 90′s and are still doing a better job then some of their competitors like Yahoo that also used to be tech companies and have now converted to media companies. AOL is doing a good job of being a reliable source for local news as well with their newest product, Patch. It’s hard to stay at the top forever but thanks to Patch and their recent acquisitions they may be around longer than many have anticipated.
Competition is steep in the online tech world but Amazon is dominating by not only trying to be the big box retailer for physical products online, but dominating the digital entertainment industry as well. Amazon offers unlimited movies and TV shows through Amazon Prime, they own a huge share of the ebook space and it’s one of the preferred places to download music. They’re tying everything in nicely with their Kindles, and if rumors are true about Amazon opening physical retail locations it appears they will continue to dominate for years to come.
Airbnb is dismantling the hotel industry by helping connect travelers who want a more unique and/or affordable place to stay with hosts who want to make some extra money by renting a spare bedroom or home. This is the perfect business model to launch during a recession when people are looking to save or make extra money. Imitators in many other industries are now following this model and it’s now possible to rent anything from household items, to cars, jets, boats and much more. These rental networks are much more popular in bigger cities but will soon be coming to a city near you. Meanwhile, Airbnb is available all around the world so if your traveling or want to rent your spare room check them out at Airbnb.com.
New York Times
The New York Times makes the list for joining the Wall Street Journal and other national publications in experimenting with ways to keep journalists in business and not being afraid to put quality content behind a paywall. Just because information is online doesn’t mean it has to be free. Several other local newspapers are experimenting with paywalls as well. Although there are other business models to report the news free of charge to the majority of readers, a paywall is one way to keep quality journalists reporting on actual news instead of simply sharing opinions. Become a NYTimes digital subscriber here.
Whole Foods Market
This is a personal favorite because after spending most of 2011 away from home far from my mothers home cooked meals, Whole Foods is what got me through the year. The grocery store and hot food buffet offers one of the best, healthiest and most diverse selection of food anywhere. They are also known for being on of the most socially responsible businesses. This natural and organic food store is still in limited locations across the country, so when traveling to a city that has one, make sure to stop by. Check them out at WholeFoodsMarket.com.
Although the satellite/cable industry still has a few more years of life before all content is consumed online, DirectTV has to be one of the first to go. It’s hard to describe the dissatisfaction with a single company in such a limited space. Besides the lack of organization that exists in their channel lineup, Direct TV promotes a special introductory rate for a limited amount of time, but subscribers are locked into a two year contract and are forced to pay the much higher rate many months after the promotional period lasts. In order to apply for this special introductory rate subscribers have to qualify and even fill out a rebate form. Should you try to cancel before the end of the two year agreement ,they charge $20 a month for every remaining month left in the contract, which can easily add up to hundreds of dollars.
The majority of their call centers that deal with billing issues, technical support and customer complaints are operated by a third party. The Better Business Bureau has received tens of thousands of complaints about the company and gives them a D+ rating. They’ve been fined millions of dollars by the FCC for telemarketing violations and have been sued for many of the issues detailed above. Needless to say, I don’t recommend locking yourself into a two year commitment and unfortunately they don’t offer the service month to month like all subscription services should be.
No university, company or organization has lowered the barriers of education quite like Wikipedia has. Founder, Jimmy Wales has grown Wikipedia to be the fifth most popular site online by offering a free online encyclopedia that is financially supported entirely by donations and kept up to date by readers who voluntarily write the articles. Although some academics still refuse to accept Wikipedia as a credible source, the site has systems in place to always have the most accurate and up to date information on the web and makes this information available to anyone with an internet connection. Although access to information is now often taken for granted this is what has allowed us to enjoy the rapid increase in our quality of life. Click the following link to donate to Wikipedia.
Whether you are Republican, Democrat or independent it has been a frustrating experience this past year to witness our partisan, inefficient legislatures try to work together. American politicians can’t work together because there is more incentive for them to do what is best for their own political affiliations than for our country. Americans Elect is changing this by empowering qualified independent candidates to run for President and allowing all Americans to sign up as delegates to select a nominee. The challenge for independent candidates to run for President in the past has been their inability to be listed on the ballot in all fifty states. Americans Elect is already listed in 12 states, having most recently been added in California, the state with the most electoral votes. To sign up as a delegate and help choose the next President register at AmericansElect.org.
NGO’s involved in the drought relief efforts in horn of Africa
It’s hard to imagine people dying in the 21st century because of no access to food or clean water, but millions died this year due to the severe drought in East Africa. There are too many NGO’s to list that provided necessary relief to this region when they needed it most but CNN compiled a good list of some of the most involved here. While the problem hasn’t been solved thousands have been saved due to the relief efforts of NGO’s such as UNICEF, International Medical Corps, United Nations and many more.
Person of the Year
Love him or hate him, Glenn Beck is the 2011 Person of the Year for having the balls (or as my 9 year old cousin calls them, weeblers) for quitting a nice cush job at Fox News and putting everything on the line to start his online venture. Beck embodies the entrepreneurial spirit everyone talks so much about and what’s most impressive is that he isn’t a 20 or 30 year old savvy computer geek, but someone who knows that the future of news and entertainment is online and he is putting his money where his mouth is to place himself at the center of it. While most would love a job on a large news network, Beck wasn’t satisfied and as a result is creating his own online network and now has an uncensored outlet to talk directly to his audience.
Conservatives have always complained about the liberal media promoting their own agenda but Beck seems to be the only one doing something about it. He is America’s conservative voice and you can check out his blogs at GlennBeck.com, TheBlaze.com and his daily two hour show and more on GBTV.com.
Worst Person of the Year
Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky gets this years worst person of the year award for putting party over country specifically when we were just a few hours away from a government shutdown earlier this year. Instead of working with President Obama and Democrats on the other side of the aisle when the debt ceiling needed to be raised, McConnell refused because his single most important priority is to “Make Obama a one term president”. If a government shutdown made Obama look bad it was a victory in McConnell’s book even if it adversely affected all Americans as well. This is the partisan politics Americans are tired of seeing and if the U.S. is going to compete with the rest of the world the McConnell’s of the world need to put their own political agenda’s to one side and do what’s best for Americans.
Predictions for 2012
2012 is going to be the year stocks bounce back, the unemployed find work, the housing market slowly recovers and the U.S. starts growing again. I think we’ve all come out of this recession stronger because we’ve learned we need at least a couple years worth of savings in the bank instead of spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.
We’ve seen gold soar over the past decade and as a result it seems gold buyers are popping up all over the place to cash in while it’s still hot. “I love gooldd”, as much as Goldmember and everyone else, but ultimately a bet on gold is a bet against the United States and the global economy. While the dollar only has intrinsic value, it’s still the most convenient way to pay for goods and services. I just hope all those gold buyers that have been popping up didn’t sign leases over a year long because it’s only a matter of time before everything comes crashing down.
As for stock picks to take advantage of the turn of the economy, buy Bank of America (BAC) currently at 5.6. Everyone is mad at the bank now and they have some pending law suits and even have some issues with capital requirements but this bank isn’t going anywhere. I’ve bought some stock and several hedge fund managers are long on this stock as well. If you don’t mind a bit of a gamble, short LinkedIn (LNKD) currently at 63.79. This professional social network is way overvalued and I don’t care how sound investors think their business plan is, it’s simply not worth this much. If you’d like to play it safe Google (GOOG) and Amazon (AMZN) currently at 633.14 and 177.28 respectively are solid blue chip companies whose stock will continue to rise gradually for the foreseeable future.
The rest of the second decade of the 21st century is going to continue to be an exciting time to witness all the new companies and technologies that are revolutionizing how we live and work. There are way too many cool new startups to list on the best companies of 2011. The most exciting are those that are helping content creators such as authors, musicians, filmmakers, etc organize and share their work directly with their fans as opposed to distributors such as publishers, record labels and cable networks owning their content.
Comedian, Louis C.K. is the success story of 2011 for producing his own show at the Beacon Theatre in New York City and selling the show directly to his loyal fans for $5. In just twelve days he’s already grossed $1 million dollars and doesn’t have to share the money with a media company, distributor, or anyone else since he produced and is distributing the show himself through his own website. Although Louis doesn’t have to share with anyone, he isn’t greedy and has decided to give hundreds of thousands to his staff and charities of choice. You can check out the very funny show at LouisCK.net.
It’s only a matter of time before all TV’s and other devices are connected to the internet and content creators find it’s not only more profitable to share directly with their audience, but more importantly they get to keep creative control over their art. In order for people and companies to be discovered now a days they have to worry more about optimizing their sites for search engines and having a strong social media presence.
Anyway, I hope you’ve had a great year and have an even better 2012. I’m going to be busy planning my new years eve party and working on some odds and ends on my website so next post will be up on Monday, 9 January and every Monday thereafter. Have a Happy New Year and I’ll talk to you soon!!
Disclosure: Included in this post is an affiliate link to the ING online savings account. I personally have an account with the bank and am a very satisfied customer