What Is 21 Hats?

Loren Feldman, 21 Hats

At 21 Hats, we’re not going to tell you how to run your business. But we are going to publish news articles, Q&As, webinars, and podcasts that feature business owners speaking frankly about what it takes to build a business.

By Loren Feldman

21 Hats is a growing online community for business owners. As the name suggests, we understand that entrepreneurs have to wear a lot of hats to build a business—but some hats fit better than others, right? When you’re not sure where to turn, 21 Hats is here to help.

I’m Loren Feldman, founder and editor-in-chief. For almost 20 years, I’ve been part of the senior editorial staff covering entrepreneurship at Inc., The New York Times, and Forbes. I learned important lessons at each of those publications, and I’m now bringing them together at 21 Hats. One early lesson that has stuck with me occurred when I was conducting a focus group of business owners, and we asked one of them what he hoped to get out of the business publications he read. “I’ll tell you what I don’t want,” the owner responded. “I don’t want to be told how to run my business by a 23-year-old journalist working for a money-losing publication.”

Point taken! Our goal at 21 Hats is to offer owners and entrepreneurs the insights, lessons, and stories that come from the people who live them. In other words, at 21 Hats we’re not going to tell you how to run your business. But we are going to publish news articles, Q&As, webinars, and podcasts that feature business owners speaking frankly about what it takes to build a business—and what to do when success is elusive. That means no five-easy-steps-to-better-SEO or 12-businesses-you-can-start-in-your pajamas articles – but lots of engagement among actual owners.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with some very smart journalists and entrepreneurs. At Inc., I edited Norm Brodsky’s column when it was nominated for two National Magazine awards, including one for a remarkably forthright series on his efforts to sell his business. I also worked with author Bo Burlingham, editing pieces like his cover story about a business owner, Jay Goltz, who learned the hard way that the hype that surrounds business growth can be misleading. At The Times, where I created the You’re the Boss blog, Jay became one of our regular contributors. Another contributor, Paul Downs, started blogging when he thought his company was headed for bankruptcy and then took us along for the ride as he turned the business around. He kept writing and sharing his experiences even when he made a big mistake on his pay-per-click advertising campaign that again threatened his business’s survival.

At Forbes, Bo and I created the annual list of Forbes Small Giants, businesses that are more focused on being great than being big. The companies we picked had to be closely held, leaders in their industry, leaders in their community, and profitable. We also looked for businesses that had blazed a fresh trail. For example, we picked Zulu Alpha Kilo, which figured out that it could build a successful advertising business without playing by the industry’s standard rules of giving away its best work trying to win accounts in beauty contests. We picked Missouri Star, which was started by a family that went from food stamps to a $40 million-a-year quilting business. And we picked SRC Holdings, which pioneered open-book management, adopted employee ownership, and managed to turn factory workers into millionaires while topping $600 million in annual revenue.

My goal with 21 Hats is to offer the best of all of the above and more. On this site, you’ll find contributors like Steven Wilkinson, who will be writing for business owners who lack confidence engaging with financial numbers. You’ll find pieces like this analysis of why advertising on Facebook has gotten tricker and this guide to choosing and managing customer-relations software.

You’ll also find the 21 Hats Podcast, a weekly discussion with seven candid business owners—including Jay Goltz and Paul Downs—who have been sharing their challenges and successes since before the crisis. If you’re new to the podcast, you might start with this one where Jay talks about the hiring goddess who changed his business or this one where Laura Zander talks about feeling trapped by the built-from-scratch platform she runs her business on, or this one where William Vanderbloemen predicts that 2021 will be a year of Covid churn.

Most weeks you’ll also find a 21 Hats Conversation where we hold a live webinar (and then publish the video with a transcript) with entrepreneurs we think you’ll want to know. For example, Stephanie Stuckey talked about why she decided to buy back the Stuckey’s road-stop business her grandfather founded. And Brent Beshore talked about why he likes to invest in “boring” businesses and why he takes a radically different approach to private equity. And we will soon be publishing conversations about why, if ESOPs are such a good idea, there are so few of them and whether there might be a better business model for restaurants. (Could there be a worse one?)

Don’t want to miss anything? Easy. Just subscribe to the 21 Hats Morning Report. Every day our email newsletter alerts you to our latest 21 Hats offerings while also scouring the Web to highlight the most important news, insights, and analysis for business owners in one quick read.

Got a question, suggestion, or concern? You can always email me: [email protected].

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