By Scott Olster
July 16, 2010

Can’t compete with the big guys? Meet three small companies – a book publisher, a hotel chain, and a doughnut maker – that can.

By Jessica Shambora, reporter


The challenge: Will established authors embrace Blurb’s online platform over traditional book publishers like Rodale?

What they did: David Kirsch was pretty happy with his publisher, Rodale, which released his two bestselling fitness books. But for his next book he hooked up with Blurb, a self-publishing platform.

What gives? He liked the total creative control, not to mention that after a fee to Blurb, he gets to keep all the profits. Blurb’s social-marketing tools also help build buzz.

As for Blurb, it was launched in 2005 by Eileen Gittins, 56, who couldn’t find a publisher for her photo essay book. So far, so good: Last year Blurb, based in San Francisco, sold 1.2 million books and pulled in $45 million in revenue.


The challenge: Can an upstart luxury hotel company rival the Ritz-Carlton’s sterling reputation for hospitality?

What they did: Montage says its edge is offering patrons unique experiences. “There’s no cookie-cutter approach to designing and operating a Montage,” says founder Alan Fuerstman, 53, who has been in the hospitality business for some 30 years.

His guests are registered en route to their rooms. No crab on the room service menu? No worries — the Montage staff will get it for you. At the Laguna Beach resort, an on-staff marine biologist hosts tidal pool tours.

The strategy seems to be working: Sales are up 17% so far this year, and Fuerstman plans to open a third resort in Park City, Utah, next winter.


The challenge: With only six Seattle shops, how does this indie doughnut chain compete with Krispy Kreme’s 619-store empire?

What they did: Top Pot co-founders and brothers Mark, 45, and Mike Klebeck, 44, were already known for their old-school coffeehouses. Why not do the same for doughnuts?

They spent months perfecting recipes based on 1920s-style “hand-forged” doughnuts. (Seahawks rookie Golden Tate made news last month when he helped himself to a few maple bars after hours. His defense: They are “irresistible.”)

The shops feature Venetian plasterwork and cabinets the brothers built themselves. Such attention to detail caught the eye of Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks, which now sells their creations. Top Pot makes a million doughnuts a week.

–David vs. Goliath update: There must be something about this column. Since we launched in March, two of the three companies we profiled have attracted interest from outsiders: Maverik Lacrosse was purchased for an undisclosed sum by the Kohlberg Sports Group, and Kroger Co. acquired a slew of outlets from the Little Clinic, a health care provider (also for an undisclosed price). Who’s next?

–David vs. Goliath update, part 2
: Since this article went to press, Blurb alerted Fortune that they are collaborating on a project with Rodale.

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