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.