Dot.bomb: My days and nights at an internet goliath
I feel a lot of empathy with J David Kuo the writer of Dot.bomb -- he was the senior vice-president of communications at Value America during a time of almost insane optimism for anything with a dotcom behind it, writes Alun Howell.
His book is written in a style of shell-shocked hindsight, detailing the rise and rise and rise and rise and fall of a dotcom that promised to change the world (didn't they all) from an insider's point of view.
It is the story of Craig Winn, the "prince of e-commerce" and his evangelical vision to create a retail company that was perfect for the internet.
In it, you can taste the gold-rush mentality for internet stocks, as you read anecdotes of how former call girls from LA moved to Silicon Valley and would take payment only in stock. The fear of missing out was almost like a disease and, like a disease, it spread to people from all parts of society.
What it does best of all is show how pure greed for the colossal amounts of money that might have been made drove any sense of normal business practices out of the window -- "pity the fools who tried going public with a business that actually made a profit".
People stopped thinking about how to build a company that worked because they were entranced with the stock price. It stopped them worrying about the returns piling up in the corridors, as they gazed up at the rising stock, and it stopped them designing a site that worked, because they were too busy looking at the animated stock price button in the corner of their screens.
It also shows how initial enthusiasm turned to white lies and, when things started to go wrong, to corporate self-denial.
Any advertising person who worked with a dotcom in the early days has probably witnessed this almost religious enthusiasm for how the net would change everything, including advertising -- but in this respect advertising has a lot to thank Craig Winn for.
He was the first person who used huge traditional advertising rather than the internet to try to create a brand -- this lead to every other dotcom following suit. Unfortunately for Value America, he had no idea what a brand was (in order to make it look like Value America had more than 1,000 brands, he counted each different coloured pencil or computer as a separate brand) and couldn't wait for the time an agency took to do ads so he did them himself.
But why shouldn't he -- Winn couldn't do anything wrong and everyone around him was telling him so. All he had to worry about was whether he would be a billionaire or trillionaire.
One of the strangest things happened when I got the book -- I asked people whether they thought it was a business book or novel. A lot of people knew it was real, but others said, of course not, that couldn't happen. In fact, what makes it so good is that what happened is hard to believe.
As Kuo says, "My company was somewhere between a court jester and a lottery winner."
"In one of the company's six buildings they had a Tannoy message that said 'Welcome to Value America' in the voice of Mr Roarke from Fantasy Island. This was Fantasy Island -- anyone caught up in dotcom fever of that time lived on that island for a while, me included."
Alun Howell is a creative director at advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather.
To but this book click on the link below
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