How will the Internet's first e-commerce sites be perceived 50 years from now? In the 1990's, billions and billions of dollars from venture capitalists and common folk were thrown at anything ending in .com. In the past few years, we've seen an unbelievable rise and abrupt fall in e-commerce investment within a short amount of time. This boom and bust is a significant event on our country's memoir, yet in 2151, it will most likely be given a mere paragraph in an eighth-grade American history textbook.
Fortunately, for history's sake, there are many former dot-commers who are more than willing to share their experiences on the rocky e-commerce roller coaster. J. David Kuo had a front-row seat and backstage pass for the granddaddy of dot-com busts.
The author was senior vice-president of communications at ValueAmerica.com. He came into the company on its way up and jumped ship just before it sank into the watery e-commerce graveyard. He documents his experience in dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath.
In the first chapter, we are introduced to Craig Winn, visionary and co-founder of Value America. He has come to Charlottesville, Virginia to create the Marketplace for the New Millennium. It will be the perfect Internet store, offering unparalleled selection, multimedia product demonstrations, an animated personal shopper and rock-bottom prices all with the convenience of shopping from home.
Kuo takes readers on a tour of Value America from its beginning, complete with Winn holding a bottle of 409 and cleaning his new offices, to its painfully slow demise. We are introduced to the "inner-circle" of the company. We see Winn at his charismatic best, sharing his vision with some of the biggest names in business, including Paul Allen of Microsoft fame and Fred "Mr. FedEx" Smith.
The author first makes his appearance as an employee one-third of the way through the saga. He's hypnotized by instant riches and success stories passed throughout the industry. Though his official title is fancy, Kuo admits his job was really all about selling Winn and his vision to the media.
dot.bomb works because Kuo tells a refreshingly honest story. This is not the work of a disgruntled co-worker. Kuo readily admits he fell for Winn's visionary sermon. With a job offer in hand, he ran to Charlottesville, eventually recruiting his wife, brother-in-law and sister-in-law as well.
In my quest for more information on the subject, I found many dated online articles from 1999 and 2000 criticizing and analyzing Value America. Kuo's version of the events exactly matches those of independent reporting parties. He didn't embellish a thing. He didn't have to, the story is outrageous enough on its own merits.
Honesty is this book's strongest point, but humor is its foundation. David Kuo may be a witty man, but Craig Winn's own day-to-day actions, beliefs and perceptions of his company were directly correlated to my public outbursts of laughter. Favorite moments of mine include Winn's political aspirations (President, of course) to his heavy involvement with Jerry Falwell and his ministries.
Had this been a work of fiction, I would have balked at the Jerry Falwell side plot. It just didn't fit the overall scenario of a story about Internet dominance. However, this is non-fiction, and that's what makes the story so damn funny.
dot.bomb flows easily and is quite entertaining. You need not be on the cutting edge of business to enjoy this saga. Economics, business and the rise and fall of stocks are all discussed in layman's terms. Kuo's work is even a self-help book of sorts. Reading about Winn's giant ego and insanely excessive spending made me feel better about my own ordinary life and adequate accomplishments.
dot.bomb is a must-read. I simply can't say it enough. Readers across the board will be fascinated with Kuo's record of a potential Internet giant brought to the ground in absolute defeat. Pick up the book to read about Craig Winn acting like a cult-like prophet, and the 600+ people who flocked to Charlottesville to greedily drink the Value America kool-aid.