David S. Greene (dsg) Tue 10 Sep 02 19:14
Lori, what stories in the book were your favorites? Which ones did you say "this is just too weird--nobody's gonna believe this"?
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Tue 10 Sep 02 23:10
Well, all the "favorites" made it into the book :) But I think the ones I find most entertaining are those that have to do with how startups came up with their names. It was all so ridiculous, and yet there was a "science" to it in a way -- that for your dot-com to make it on the radar screen, it had to meet certain criteria (i.e., how could "Yahoo!" differentiate itself from the drink "Yoohoo") I also love the story of the Peace Corps spokesman talking about the ads the non-profit used to recruit dot-commers after the crash. Things like: "Dot-com, dot-gone? Now it's time to network in the real world: Peace Corps." Or "Upgrade your memories, download the world." The funniest anecdote from the "spin" chapter is about DEN, the much-hyped (and much-funded) online entertainment site, whose co-founder was being charged with homosexual pedophilia. Their slogan? "DEN: Spank your mind"! The famous Time-Warner "O.J.'s Guilty!" Web site debacle gets the biggest rise out of readers. I won't describe it here -- it's well worth reading the first-hand account.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 12 Sep 02 11:09
Jesse, why did you get involved in writing this book with Lori? Did you also work for a start-up that crashed?
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Thu 12 Sep 02 21:30
Actually, Jesse worked at a startup that still exists, IFILM, which was co-founded Kevin Wendle, who, with Barry Diller, co-founded the Fox Broadcasting Network. The book idea came up after Jesse saw my Industry Standard expose about my surreal experience at Kibu. His was one of the emails that came in response to that piece, and, well, I'll let him tell the story from here... Jesse?
Jesse Jacobs (jessejacobs) Thu 12 Sep 02 22:35
Cynthia, I started thinking about compiling anecdotes for a book in the winter of 2000 when I was working at IFILM.com, a film internet company based out of LA. I had been working for Yahoo! Internet Life, a Ziff-Davis magazine prior to my stint at IFILM. Many of my friends (mostly other 20-somethings) had been working at other dotcoms, many of which had crashed or were on the verge of closing up. I noticed a general malaise among the 20-something dotcom generation. These were smart, motivated, creative people who felt lost. They felt that they had wasted several years in this dotcom "thing" and now they had to start their careers over. So, the birth of the idea for the book was an attempt to get their stories down on paper, to provide them with a positive outlet for their malaise. This idea, however, evolved and really began to take shape when Lori and I partnered up. But, I think it's worth noting that IFILM.com, the startup I worked for, is still around and doing rather well. It didn't "crash." This isn't so much a point of pride as it is a point of importance about the misconceptions of the "era," of the subculture, if you will. The internet industry wasn't and isn't all "crash, burn and learn." There were positives. There were success stories.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Sep 02 10:07
> [It] wasn't and isn't all "crash, burn and learn." There > were positives. There were success stories. Oh, absolutely! Many of the companies that have survived have probably had to revise their ideas on how to generate income, but clearly not every start-up has had to shut down. Going into the future, how do you two think dot-coms that aren't selling tangible products are going to fare? Now that the "excess" of start-ups have disappeared, are there enough advertiser dollars to go around?
Angus MacDonald (angus) Fri 13 Sep 02 10:07
I have a question about the expensive advertising some of the doomed companies did: Was it a matter of wily ad firms going after big pockets and talking naifs into exposure far beyond their target markets, or did the naifs themselves decide, "We wanna commercial on the Super Bowl!," then go shopping for agencies?
Angus MacDonald (angus) Fri 13 Sep 02 10:08
[Cdb slipped; sorry to blather.]
Gerry Feeney (gerry) Fri 13 Sep 02 10:29
Hi. Sorry to come late to this fascinating discussion. My interest in the book is greatly piqued. I can relate to much of this because I'm a veteran programmer who was heavily involved with the mother of all dot-bombs ** WebVan ** at the flagship distribution center in Oakland in the months prior to its grand opening. I'm curious to know if WebVan was discussed in the book.
Angus MacDonald (angus) Fri 13 Sep 02 10:43
Gerry Feeney (gerry) Fri 13 Sep 02 10:52
And what was said about it?
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Fri 13 Sep 02 14:22
Ah...a WebVan refugee! It's mentioned several times in the book. Let's see, there's some discussion of it in the IPO chapter (accompanied by a graphic of a WebVan stock certificate that was sold on eBay). And, of course, several contributors mention WebVan in their own stories -- usually to make a point about WebVan's business decisions, and why, naturally, they didn't work. Having been in the trenches there, you'll probably find these comments witty or insightful or some combination of both.
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Fri 13 Sep 02 14:31
Angus asked about advertising -- this was the most difficult chapter to keep at a manageable length because there were so many fascinating stories and insights here. And because, of course, every day there was some news item in the NYT or Wall Street Journal about The Next Big Thing in online advertising. But in answer to Angus' question, the following quote from the book's "Spin" chapter (Chapter 6) might shed some light: "One thing that does stick in my mind is how the [advertising]agencies always made their clients pay upfront," says Ziff-Davis ad executive Jennifer Musillo. "That says a lot about what they thought of their clients --and how much faith they put in the success of their campaigns." Hmm...
David S. Greene (dsg) Fri 13 Sep 02 14:32
Lori or Jesse- As the alums of various places you interviewed started to get word that you were soliciting opinions, did you find people vying to get differing viewpoints heard? Was there a concern about some companies being portrayed negatively?
Jesse Jacobs (jessejacobs) Fri 13 Sep 02 21:23
Naturally, public perception is an issue that is of great concern to most companies and execs, especially at startups where public perception can have great impact. The most salient example of this is with DEN.net, the much-ballyhooed online entertainment site. We include anecdotes from David Neuman, the company president, Matthew Klauische, a Den tech guy, and Matt Welch, the (in?)famous webzine-er, who worked at Den for several weeks and wrote about his experience there in a much celebrated column on Online Journalism Review's website (www.ojr.org). Since DEN was such a sensitive subject and such an incorrectly-portrayed company, our goal here was to provide several perspectives so as not to limit our sources and opinions. Our goal was to cut a wide swath across all New Economy industries and positions. So, we spoke to CEOs, VCs, lawyers, programmers, SF real estate agents, party planners, journalists, senior execs, linguists, et al. The intent was not to single out any company or profile any one person. So, if and when people did vie to get their company's perspective into the book, we listened to their requests, stories and anecdotes with critical ears. Our goal was to create a collective memoir. To gather anecdotes. To provide people with a glimpse of what the industry and era were like. To the extent that anecdotes satisfied these goals, we included the anecdotes. To the extent that the anecdotes and quotes merely covered one's ass, we were, well, more skeptical. These anecdotes required more diligent corroboration. As for the issue that some companies were being portrayed negatively, I'd have to say that we were aware that some companies may have been perceived negatively by some of our interviewees. But, a concern? No. Furthermore, compared to the articles written about some of these companies in the past, I think the negative portrayal that we included was rather benign. You be the judge......
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 14 Sep 02 06:35
It would be hard for some companies to escape negative portrayal, no? I spoke to a reporter about the demise of WholePeople.com, but I didn't much want to talk about our mistakes. For one thing, we did a lot that was right, especially in our earlier incarnation at WholeFoods.com, and the perception of the good stuff we did was vanishing in the meltdown. As enlightening and amusing as _Cult of Kibu_ has been, I find myself wondering if it wouldn't be cool and useful to assemble a flip-side kind of book: something about the innovations that emerged from dotcommunism, and a bit about the companies that were clueful, got the logistics as well as the interface right, succeeded and survived...? No criticism implied... believe me, I too considered writing something about the wretched excesses and buzzword-driven derangement of the times. *8-)
Jesse Jacobs (jessejacobs) Sat 14 Sep 02 07:25
Jon, I think that's an excellent point. Excluding Lori's Kibu story, our intention was not to emphasize on the mistakes made by companies, but rather to offer a collective memoir of "dotcommunism" (to use your phrase). Naturally, plenty of the mistakes and failures are brought up by our interviewees. Although I haven't tallied up the positives dotcom stories or quotes and the negative dotcom stories or quotes in the book, I would imagine that your assumption is right. There are more negatives than positives. BUT, I would imagine that there are more positives than a reader would guess there would be (again, taking Kibu out of the equation). Is this due to the expectations that one has when reading ANYTHING about the industry? Perhaps. That all being said, I think you're right, Jon. I think the industry has gotten too much of a bad rap. Were there screwups? You bet. But, did the industry produce unprecedented innovation and genuine enthusiasm for new products and ideas? Absolutely. And, while I do think that many of these positives come across in our book (especially in the Idea Chapter and Culture Chapter), I regret that the focus (or at least the perception of the focus) of the book seems to be on the mayhem and mishaps.
David S. Greene (dsg) Sat 14 Sep 02 09:37
Jesse and Lori- What are you seeing from the book's buzz? How are the stories being received, and are you getting a "theme" developing from the pattern of commentary? As a followup, is any of this unexpected? Are you surprised that folks are concentrating on (insert anecdote or theme here) as opposed to (insert alternate story or theme here)?
Gerry Feeney (gerry) Sat 14 Sep 02 09:40
Lori & Jesse, do you include any analysis or speculation on the "What went wrong?" aspects? Is your book likely to be included alongside case studies in business schools?
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Sat 14 Sep 02 11:33
Good question, David, because YES, there have been some themes to the buzz/feedback. Critics who praise the book evaluate it based on whether it works as a fresh look into this world and era; whether we present new perspectives via our contributors' voices and our own editorial choices; and whether it was a page-turner, whether they found the writing and the book's sensibility both entertaining and enlightening. The one negative review to date came from a critic who spent most of his essay discussing how idiotic dot-coms were (and are), then went on to say that the book was interesting and enjoyable but who cares about dot-coms? (He/she, who apparently used to be a Time staffer, began the review by making fun of his former colleagues for running so many stories about the era, citing one Time cover story in particular. So, we never really had a chance...) For people who want to see a behind-the-scenes, intimate, and very human portrayal of this time, the feedback's been great. The funny thing is, on every radio interview I've done for this book, the host has said, "You know, I almost joined a dot-com" or "My best friend worked at whateveritwas.com," etc. It's sort of like someone sayng, "You know, my friend was alcholic" or "I also struggled with a drinking problem." It becomes almost confessional because even those who stayed far away from it all couldn't help but be touched by it on some level during those years.
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Sat 14 Sep 02 11:35
Re: Jon's post earlier -- There are a number of companies mentioned in the book that did things right and are still around. Maybe our book simply reflects the real-world ratio of those that made it to those that didn't. So there's an imbalance, but it's definitely not one-sided. (At least, we hope not!)
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Sat 14 Sep 02 11:42
Gerry - Yup. Our contributors talk a lot about what went wrong and what they've learned and what they'd do differently and what WAS done right. Most interesting to me was hearing not just from CEOs of these companies but from the attorneys and VCs and other outside folks who could offer a different perspective from those in-house. A lot of biz grads from Harvard, Stanford, other top schools appear in the book, and yes, the feedback from them (and their professors, I hear) is that this should be read by every MBA student today, especially because they witnessed this and for many, it's all they really know about the business world, given their ages and work experience. So it's like, Here's what happened, and here's what anyone going into business can learn from it. Jesse, as you all know, has just begun business school at Wharton. Jesse - I saw the nice review in the Wharton magazine, but what have your colleagues said about the book? Your professors? Have you been using your experience at IFILM to inform what you're learning about now?
David S. Greene (dsg) Sat 14 Sep 02 13:50
(Heaven for an interviewer is when the guests start asking *each other* questions!) Yeah, Jesse. What are they saying at Wharton about The Cult of Kibu? How has IFILM informed your current experiences? (excellent questions, Lori!)
Lori Gottlieb (lgottlieb) Sun 15 Sep 02 11:53
The funniest feedback I heard from a Stanford biz school student who dropped out to become CEO (ahem!)of a dot-com and has now returned, tail between his legs, to get his degree was: "It's like looking in the mirror. No wait, it's like looking at two photos of oneself: the 'before' and the 'after.' And s--t, the 'before' picture's hard to look at, but if you don't look, you can't see how far you've come since then."
Jesse Jacobs (jessejacobs) Sun 15 Sep 02 14:48
The response at Wharton has been overwhelmingly positive. As you can probably imagine, the professors seem to especially revel in the failure of many dotcom companies. The financial projections, marketing strategies and economics of many New Economy firms were so out of whack with business standards to-date. So, in the late 90's you had b-school students learning one thing about finance, marketing, econ, etc... and witnessing the exact opposite in the market place. The market was not valuing net income, effective management of assets, etc... The market was valuing hype and growth at the expense of value. So, now, in 2002, MBA professors can look back at the last five years, and say "See! Our methods work! That is why you need to learn X, Y and Z." Their jobs are saved! As far as lessons from IFILM and using them to inform my learning experience at Wharton, I think it boils down to something very fundamental. Working at a start-up gives you the opportunity to jump head-first into the operations of a business, the growth strategy, and many of the implications involved in each aspect of the business. But, what it does not do is teach you the fundamentals or provide you with the benchmark by which you should measure success. B-School does. It's funny, because even though I've only been here at Wharton for a couple months, I've already picked up so many tools that I wish I had when I was out in the workplace.
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