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Dot.Bomb: My Days And Nights At An Internet Goliath [Hardcover]

J.David Kuo
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 2001
J. David Kuo had a ringside seat at one of the biggest busts of the Internet age. Value America (NASDAQ:VUSA) was supposed to revolutionize retailing by using the Internetno more retailers or distributors needed. Fred Smith, legendary founder of Federal Express, called it the best business model hed ever seen and invested millions of dollars. In a few short years, the company raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars before a spectacular crash.

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Product Description

From Amazon

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 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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Disingenuous March 20 2004
By A Customer
I'll admit -- I finished this book relatively quickly. It's a quasi-page turner; that's why I gave it three stars instead of one.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars da bomb Jan. 29 2004
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 traditional way.
I think after reading this i have to re-read the story to recollect their pitfalls and successes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mad and wonderfull times - now gone Sept. 16 2003
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.bomb territory well, especially the smooth talkers and marketing types. I did miss more references to the techies and the excitement on the workers' floor in this time frame.
Little mention is made of the success stories that happen alongside the dot.bomb's. and how common sense and a off-key vision could have kept one out of danger of the dot.domb euphoria.
A fascinating and fun read. An excellent record of the times! Missing in the book is more reference to the legacy media and old school business's envy towards the new economy, which assisted in the downfall of these young entrepreneurs. The book confirms that it was wild, it was fun and we'll miss it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars What a time it was! July 15 2003
If you want to know what happened during the gold rush, DOT.BOMB is a very good place to start. It is engrossing, well-written & as funny as a fit of giggles at a wake!
What a ride! J. David Kuo had me squirming with tension, panting with the pressure, dreading yet eager to learn what was going to happen next. An accessible adventure about one innocent investor enticed into high flying finance & all its attending drama.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but drags on April 2 2003
Format:Audio Cassette
This is a humorous read. It is enjoyable, but drags on, without really exploring the details of the final downfall of VA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Interesting March 31 2003
I had never heard of Value America prior to reading this book--which I know would have driven Craig Winn mad. The company never made it onto my Internet radar and didn't last long enough to change that. But what David Kuo leaves us with is a tale of one start-up which is highly indicative of what happened to other dot com companies during the same period, and that tale is quite an amusing one.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Craig Winn story is familiar March 30 2003
By A Customer
I guess one reason I really liked this book is that my's CEO was almost the same person as Craig Winn. This manac personality time obviously did very well during the bubble.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Realistic Tale March 25 2003
As someone who worked for a smaller .com that also died a quick death, I can attest to how realistically Kuo captures the essence of the .com era. This book is about as realistic as it gets, the analysis of the internal and political problems start-up companies face is dead on. Steve Winn is a classic example of the salesman CEO, one who will say anything to close a sale. This book is a fantastic case study for anyone interested in understand the excesses of the .com era. The excessive spending, the focus of revenue, and the approval of garbage business plans. This book is also a testament to how far one can get with A+ salesmanship.
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.
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