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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 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Disingenuous March 20 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Interesting March 31 2003
Format:Hardcover
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Realistic Tale March 25 2003
Format:Hardcover
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Dot.bomb Jan. 27 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Dob.bomb is an absolutely fascinating look behind the scenes of an internet bust. With incredible humor, author David Kuo tells a tale of how an egomaniacal founder, with a penchant for ultimate control, can kill even the best venture. I, too, worked for a "dot.com" company, and for an entrepreneur with qualities very similar to Mr. Winn's (do they just clone these guys??) As I read the book, I just replaced Mr. Winn's name with our CEO's and it told basically the same story. The parallels were incredible. They can't relinquish control because no one understands their baby like they do. They refuse to accept the advice of the very people they hire to take the company to the next level. And in the end, the most amazing thing is the disconnect that these ego driven visionaries have -- they absolutely cannot see how their actions had any effect on the company's failure. As the cops say, "yeah, I know, the other dude did it".
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Dot.Bomb explodes blinding Dot-com greed Dec 17 2002
By Linda
Format:Audio Cassette
I'm not sure the subtitle is quite accurate; Value America an Internet Goliath? Value America never was a household name. When I told friends I was reading this, not one of them had heard of Value America. Its demise never triggered economic panic or prompted congressional inquiries. It was just another dotcom that bit the dust, taking millions of dollars and a few hundred jobs with 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.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars da bomb
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 more
Published on Jan. 29 2004 by Romin Cyrus Irani
5.0 out of 5 stars Mad and wonderfull times - now gone
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
Published on Sept. 16 2003 by wildsouth
5.0 out of 5 stars What a time it was!
If you want to know what happened during the dot.com gold rush, DOT.BOMB is a very good place to start. Read more
Published on July 15 2003 by Rebecca Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but drags on
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Craig Winn story is familiar
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 more
Published on March 29 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Even if only 50% true, it's worth the money.
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 more
Published on Jan. 3 2003 by Dr. David Arelette
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling story
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 more
Published on Dec 31 2002 by T. Schmitt
4.0 out of 5 stars Suprisingly good read....
After reading Dot.con, I really wanted something to accompany the book that went into only minor specifics on this time period that will go down in history as one of this most... Read more
Published on Dec 31 2002 by Steven Hunt
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