From the April 2003 issue of Startups

Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a national bestseller for good reason. Packed with practical information and perhaps surprising conclusions, this book should be consumed by anyone looking to get a peek into the magic threshold when products, social behaviors or theories start small and suddenly spread throughout the country at an incredible rate.

In business, we call these epidemics "word-of-mouth" or "viral" marketing strategies. Gladwell makes a convincing case on how a drop in the crime rate in New York or the stickiness of Sesame Street can all be attributed to connectors, mavens, salesmen and the context in which the epidemic spreads.

One piece of his argument insists that there are a select number of influential people in the country who dictate many of the trends that break out. These people have amazing Rolodexes; they seem to know everyone. For a businessperson, finding these people and leveraging their influence is absolutely critical, Gladwell argues. While written for a general audience, not necessarily businesspeople (thus some sections may not be particularly applicable to your business), it is a must-read for anyone hoping to gain a better understanding on how these social epidemics work--and how to capitalize on them.


Fifteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled by more than 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.