Main Street 2012: The Year of Living With Uncertainty
But any good entrepreneur knows, challenges breed opportunity. For nimble newcomers, re-imagining the online marketplace was priority one. More tech savvy consumers, for example, are mining the Internet to find the best deals—sometimes at the expense of loyalty to retailers. "There will be a lot less retailers on this planet in another decade than there is today," said Michael Rubin, chief executive of Kynetic, which owns three websites—Fanatics, Rue La La and ShopRunner. Rubin made the comments last week on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
For some startups, innovation came with questions. Founded in August 2008, Airbnb (pronounced air-bee-n-bee) allows individual home and apartment owners to rent properties as holiday accommodations—sometimes for hundreds of dollars less than local hotel rooms. The startup encountered some criticism about whether the site keeps tabs on users. The company pointed to its many site safeguards. (Read more: Rental Startup Airbnb Goes Hyper Local, but Is It Safe?)
Entrepreneurs continued to mine crowd-funding websites such as Kickstarter. But some including the creators of the smartphone watch Pebble realized the new funding model isn't an easy fix for raising money. (Read more: How Trendy Funding Puts Pressure on Startups)
Then there's Groupon. Once a tech darling, Groupon shares are under $5, down roughly 85 percent since it went public in November 2011. One franchisee's experience was unusually rocky, and offered a cautionary tale about the effectiveness of digital discounts. (Read more: One Franchisee's Cautionary Tale About Groupon's Pitfalls)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
— Written by CNBC's Heesun Wee. Follow her on Twitter