100 Brilliant Ideas 2010



Penny pinchers, unite!

BillShrink trims the fat out of budgets--and is making a mint doing it

The Age of the Tightwad shows no sign of ending. Despite economic upticks, Americans are still spending 30 percent less than they did in 2008, Gallup's consumer spending poll shows. That's just $63 a day. At the same time, they have been furiously dumping debt--$101.2 billion of it came off the books in the last 14 months. And businesses selling value--dollar stores, discount services, retail shops--are thriving amid all the penny-pinching, an attitude that seems destined to linger even as the economy turns around.

One of the more creative enterprises is BillShrink, a free online tool that helps users lower monthly expenses such as cell-phone plans, credit cards and even gas. Basically, the website asks a few questions about spending, then sends users a list of recommended services and vendors.

"The recession has been incredibly helpful to our business," says CEO Peter Pham. His Silicon Valley site tracks 10 million cell-phone plan combinations, 300 bank rates, 240 credit cards and 150,000 gas stations nationwide. And after making recommendations, BillShrink alerts users with an e-mail when even better deals come along.

The site gets more than 250,000 unique monthly visitors, who average $1,500 in annual savings, Pham says. In all, the company claims $1 billion in savings for more than 1 million users since its launch in 2007.

Of course, BillShrink is a business, not a philanthropy, and for every change of credit card or cell-phone plan by a user, for instance, BillShrink gets $50 to $150 from the retailer. Pham says these fees don't influence its selections. "We always have our customers' backs," he says.

Next up: A BillShrink for Business section and a plan to add more products, including cable TV service. "Ultimately," Pham says, "we want to eliminate price confusion and empower consumers." --Kara Ohngren

9 More to Watch:

Blackboard Eats A free e-newsletter and website that offers exclusive deals at top restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles.

Copy Cat Chic Interior designer Reichel R. Broussard follows the latest high-end home design trends and then scours the Internet for sales, closeouts and bargains to achieve the same look for a fraction of the price.

Dry Bar Have the $85 luxury salon blowout for only $35: Dry Bar offers a wash and blow dry (no cuts or color), and complimentary cocktails at its Brentwood, Calif., location.

Fashionphile After outgrowing eBay, Sarah Davis opened her own pre-owned luxury handbag shop and online store. Sales more than doubled during the recession, topping $4 million.

Groupon Capitalizing on the power of group-buying, this website offers members a daily deal on stuff to do, see, eat and buy in cities across the U.S.

Lucky Chic The latest entry in online luxury sample sales offers customers savings of as much as 98 percent off retail when they bid and win products from such coveted brands as Prada, Saks or even Apple.

Rent Cycle This online rental marketplace connects more than 30,000 rental businesses offering anything from cameras to bicycles.

20x200 Most any art lover can become an art collector, with a site offering most pieces for $20.

Warby Parker Boutique-quality prescription eyeglasses for $95 a pair, plus the hip online store lets customers upload a photo for virtual try-ons. And it sells monocles.

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This article was originally published in the June 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Entrepreneur's Annual 100 Brilliant Ideas.

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