Inc. Magazine, the Golden Circle & Relevance

There was a time, back in the 1980s and 90s, that Inc. magazine was cool. It was the Wall Street Journal of small business and startup publications. It was respected. It had real stories of real entrepreneurs running real businesses. Its tagline was clear: “The magazine for growing companies.” It was one of those magazines which I looked forward to reading each month.

Along the way, the Internet happened: the tech sector exploded and business thought came into the mainstream, creating dozens of new publications and thousands of blogs. And sometime during that period, Inc. became irrelevant to me.

As a startup guy, I can’t recall the last time I sent someone an Inc. article. As a college professor, I can’t remember the last time a student brought up or shared one in class or online.

So I’ve been wondering why. Why is it that some publications just can’t find the content (or the ability to market it) to remain relevant? How can a magazine like Inc. lose its brand power and relevance while others, like Fast Company and Wired, can keep it?

I don’t have the answer but I have a theory.

Using Simon Sinek’s construct of the Golden Circle, I believe it’s because Inc. is stuck giving us the “what” while other publications give us the “why” and “how”. In other words, we don’t just care what the content is: the headlines, storylines, themes, personalities, or topics. As consumers of content, we also need to intuitively sense why it matters…why it’s relevant to us.

Here are the articles/blog posts on the Inc. home page at the time I’m writing this. Is it still “the magazine for growing companies”?

  • EPA Skips Panel on Climate Action Plan
  • SBA Chief Karen Mills Is Leaving in August
  • How It’s Made: Tesla Model S
  • 5 Free (or Nearly Free) Apps for Small Businesses
  • 7 Start-Ups Imitating Mother Nature
  • Affordable Care Chills Most Small Businesses
  • Why It Doesn’t Pay to Cut Wages
  • Marissa Mayer’s 1-Year Report Card: The Dead Stay Dead
  • 5 Cool New Hard-to-Find Gadgets
  • Tech Companies Urge Obama For More Transparency
  • You Can’t Work at Home
  • The Princeton Review’s Founder Hated Being a Public Company CEO
  • How to Nail a Big Brand Partnership
  • What’s Your End Game?
  • How Not to Maintain Business Relationships

Why is this list important? If I go to the home page and am not engaged, I leave. Like beauty, relevance is in the eye of the beholder.

Problem is, I can’t tell who the beholder is that Inc. is trying to reach. Is it Baby Boomer small business owners, high-growth tech entrepreneurs, first-time founders, small business policy wonks, people curious about the startup sector, collegiate entrepreneurs, people who like lists, or some other group?

Yes, the articles seem interesting but why should one read them? How are they relevant to any specific target market? It’s a classic case of trying to be all things to all people.

To be found beautiful by the beholder, first you must matter.


  1. Rob Mendez

    Good post Raman! Are there any other sites, magazines, etc… you would recommend other than Inc.?

      • Robert Mendez

        As a matter or fact, I’m looking for more innovative thinking and case studies to look at. I’ve read “blue ocean strategy” already. I’m reviewing it again as well. However, I would like to read something new and just as informative potent.

        • Raman Chadha

          In that case, I would recommend Harvard Business Review’s blog and the HBS blog. The HBR one has become a bit watered down in recent years (interestingly, along the same lines of Inc.) but there’s some terrific new thought that gets published there. Seth Godin is always terrific for innovative thinking, and my friends at Insight Labs (right here in Chicago) are doing some amazing things. Let me know what you think about any of these as you dig in.

  2. Bo Burlingham

    Hi, Raman. I find your comments extremely interesting–and I’ve been on the staff of Inc. for 30 years. I was executive editor in the 1980s and have been editor-at-large since 1990. I know what you’re talking about and would be most interested in discussing it with you.

    • Raman Chadha

      Thanks, Tom, I’ve heard that several times in recent years. It might be too disjointed of a market for one source to be “the handbook” these days, but there’s still plenty of opportunities to be “a handbook”.

  3. Pingback: Writing for Thank You | ramanations

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