Does TV really rot your brain? Probably-but for some entrepreneurs, it's a source of inspiration. Take Andy Lam. While most boys his age were watching The Dukes of Hazzard, Lam was glued to Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters. "I started watching 20/20 with my parents when I was 4," says Lam, now 22 and founder of OneCard Technologies, a consumer identification company in Austin, Texas. "I like it because it puts a human face on business stories. Every employee, every individual has their own needs, and you have to understand them to create a good environment."
OK, so Lam got his inspiration from a serious news show, but some entre-preneurs are influenced by more nontraditional sources. "The biggest inspirations for me were the old '60s beach and surf movies," says Howie Sonnenschein, 35, founder and president of Bikini.com, a beach lifestyle brand based in New York City. "Frankie and Annette, Beach Blanket Bingo, Gidget. Our whole graphical style is taken from those shows and movies."
Considering Americans' fascination with all things retro, these "unusual" inspirations are really just a sign of the (past) times. "Nostalgia is one of the great American preoccupations," says Quentin Schultze, professor of communication at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "We constantly look to the past, and as a consumer society, America wraps nostalgia in consumerist packages." For entrepreneurs like Sonnenschein, nostalgia is a full-time business. "It seemed like the early '60s were such a happy era," he says. "That's what Bikini.com is all about."