Dot.Bomb: My Days And Nights At An Internet Goliath Hardcover – Oct 2001
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Anyone who stumbled through the Web's earliest days--as either a starry-eyed entrepreneur, investor, or employee--will find plenty to recognize in J. David Kuo's insightful and entertaining dot.bomb. Wrapped in the tale of Value America, Craig Winn's wildly unsuccessful bid to hop aboard the Internet revolution in 1997 and totally remake retailing, the book paints a clear picture of the way optimism and wishful thinking became fatally intermingled in the rush to mine the gold supposedly buried deep within this glowing, new electronic medium. And Kuo, formerly the company's senior vice president of communications, knows the story intimately and shows here that he also knows how to tell it.
"The single goal was to build scale, build the brand, and become the Internet behemoth... overnight," he writes in describing how Winn, a traditional businessman with traditional ideas about building a traditional company, was sucked into the day's unbridled cyber-fervor as he tried to assemble his vision of a one-stop electronic shop that took advantage of all the Net's imagined bells and whistles. "[But] Winn had more competitors than he imagined," Kuo continues. "In Silicon Valleys, alleys, and corridors, retailers, technologists, and bankers were creating dot.com companies that would sell pet food, lingerie, books, electronics, discount items, luxury items, home-improvement items, furniture, and everything else imaginable. All those companies were already operating on new Internet math. Winn had to catch up."
In the pages that follow, Kuo vividly chronicles the heady years that came just after Michael Wolff's pioneering Burn Rate era, and he does so with just as juicy an insider's perspective (although without the rancor and animosity that such an experience often engenders). There also are plenty of practical lessons here. One strongly suspects, however, that much like those brought back from gold rushes to Sutter's Mill, these also will go largely unheeded when the fever spreads again. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
The publishing industry's newest genre the dot-com memoir sees its latest offering in Kuo's account of his tenure at "e-tailer" Value America. Kuo joined the company as senior v-p of communications in the spring of 2001, shortly after the company's IPO made prospective millionaires of its shareholders. But the company couldn't live up to its hype: despite claims of an "inventoryless" retail revolution (shipping directly from manufacturers to consumers), Value America was chronically unable to track orders, slow in delivering shipments and wracked by internal dissent. Still, this was the dot-manic golden moment, when the prospect of making "gold simply by peddling sand" was too alluring (even "somehow erotic"). Eventually, of course, Value America declared bankruptcy, in August 2000. Kuo expertly grafts a dramatic sensibility onto this familiar boom-and-bust story, drafting exchanges between Value America's major players like scenes in a novel. Craig Winn, the company's charismatic, ambitious, fatally flawed hero-founder, seems worthy of a Greek tragedy. This entertaining, novelistic approach does much to hide the book's single disappointment: Kuo apparently wasn't very important to Value America's fortunes. He worked there for less than a year; aside from a brief prologue, he doesn't personally appear for almost 90 pages, three years after the company's founding. His imaginative reconstruction (quotations, eyewitness accounts, near-omniscient observations) may bother readers concerned with historical accuracy. But those vicariously seeking the thrill of the 20th century's most dynamic business period will find Kuo a good storyteller and an engaging guide.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.See all Product Description
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But all along, as Kuo recounts his story of working for a seemingly mentally unstable CEO, he seems to feign naivete. "I saw Craig Winn as a visionary." But in the next paragraph, Kuo is pointing out how Winn was lying to the press and financial analysts. So Kuo really undercuts his own credibility by trying to play both sides here.
Here's my theory: He needed to suck up to Winn to get access in order to write this book. So even though he points out Winn's erratic moments and his outright lying, he thanks Winn at the end, and praises him. Ah, the price of media access!
Also, I think Kuo is embarassed, as he should be. He bought the dot-com story hook, line and sinker. He thought he'd be a millionaire, so he desperately wanted to believe Craig Winn's blather. On top of that, Kuo recruited his own wife and in-laws to work at Value America, so he's got a lot to be embarassed about!
Ultimately, Kuo's own equivocation prevents this story from being genuinely compelling.
When I first saw the paperback edition of this book in the bookstore, I couldn't believe there was yet another dot com book on the shelves chronicling the death of a start-up, but when I picked it up, I got hooked quickly. In Kuo's introduction, he alludes to a pre-existing fascination with Value America prior to ever having been employed there. I can remember questioning whether or not I should have bought a share of some dot com company back then, much like Kuo, so his experiences mixed with the history of Value America make Kuo the ideal person to narrate the story.
After having finished the book, I couldn't believe that the characters were real people. There was just so much of many of the key players' personalities mixed into the story that it seemed almost like a novel.
If you're a person who enjoys reading about start-up companies, whether or not they are dot com, you will love this book. It really puts the notion of common sense in business back in perspective.
After reading this book, I decided to look up Steve Winn and see what he is up to these days. The book mentions the fact that Winn seemed to find religion shortly before he was ousted, now he is pushing books on terrorism denouncing Islam trying to cash in on 9-11. If you read this book, do an Amazon and Google search on Steve Winn, hilarity will ensue. Even his bio on the 700 club page has the typical Winn exaggerations. For more laughs, be sure to check out Winn's book about how his company was ruined by everyone else but him.
This book was such a fun read that I'm now reading it for a second time and recommending it to all my friends who work in hi tech environments. It is a funny but cautionary tale of what NOT to do. I lived through the same kind of nightmare of optimism-lunacy-panic-chaos-crash that David Kuo describes and he tells it like it is. The book is an absolute hoot, to boot. Buy it. Enjoy it. Learn from it.
With that criticism out of the way, let me tell you why I enjoyed this audiobook.
It may be hard to believe that so many willing people investing their lives and their fortunes in this company. While founder Craig Winn blustered on about an inventoryless retail revolution, nobody read the fine print. Nobody stopped to consider how unworkable his plan was. Scary!
Winn's plan was that VA would market its partners' brands, which supposedly numbered in the thousands (hilariously, the actual number of brands fell far short of 1000, until one enterprising manager decided a yellow highlighter was a completely different *brand* from a pink one, and that a size small jacket was different from a size medium. None of the snookered investors or auditors double-checked the claims).
VA would not need warehouses to stock these many brands. Instead, they would electronically pass the orders to the manufacturers, who would then fill them, leaving VA to lead the "inventoryless" retail revolution. Viva Value America!
Not so fast.
Sales for highly promoted brands, like IBM computers, were robust, but VA wasn't promoting the other brands with the same vigor. So when an order for one of those yellow highlighters trickled in, the manufacturer, accustomed to filling orders by the truckload, was not equipped to fill it. And there was no easy way for VA to track what they had or hadn't filled.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Excellent read - entertaining, instructive and scary. Do some real business people really act like sociopathic/psychopathic, selfish people and with childish behaviour. Read morePublished 3 months ago by D A Pettit
Its a really good story about the rollercoaster ride he went through and fortunately it ended.A very interesting tale of an online company marketing its products in a very... Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2004 by Romin Cyrus Irani
I found the book both highly entertaining and a bit unsettling. Was the Internet culture really like that way back in 1999? Whoa, yes it was!
The book covers the dot. Read more
If you want to know what happened during the dot.com gold rush, DOT.BOMB is a very good place to start. Read morePublished on July 15 2003 by Rebecca Brown
This is a humorous read. It is enjoyable, but drags on, without really exploring the details of the final downfall of VA.Published on April 2 2003 by John D Early
I guess one reason I really liked this book is that my dot.com's CEO was almost the same person as Craig Winn. Read morePublished on March 29 2003
Even if some of the people and events are not 100% accurate (and how can they ever be with personal perception), this is a great read and a lesson that every business builder needs... Read morePublished on Jan. 3 2003 by Dr. David Arelette
As someone who went through a dot bomb, it's amazing to read a story with so many simularities: the wanton spending of cash, the arrogence and egos, and the stunning miss reading... Read morePublished on Dec 31 2002 by T. Schmitt
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