Top positive review
A good and quite funny read
on May 8, 2002
dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath is David Kuo's first-person account of his tenure at Value America. Kuo's role at Value America was that of Director of Corporate Communications, also known as mouthpiece to the chairman. Value America was an early Internet retailer that crashed and burned quite quickly after its IPO in early 1999. The story of Value America is inherently the story of its founder and chairman, Craig Winn. Winn was the typical big vision salesman, one who could talk and impress people about the big picture, but couldn't execute things effectively. Although Winn saw the potential of the Internet to transform all areas of commerce, especially the retail sector, his visions of greatness and riches never took flight.
Winn's mistake (of which there are many) was that he got caught up in his own hubris. The sad part of the Value America debacle is that it really did have a chance to do something big -- really big. But, as Kuo details in chapter after chapter, it was Winn who often got in the way of the company's ability to achieve its true potential. Kuo is a former political speech writer, and his sometime self-deprecating writing style is engaging and humorous, making the book difficult to put down.
The book starts with Kuo's arrival at Value America, and in just a few pages, we see that Value America had all of the trappings that ensured the demise of most dot.coms; hype, overpaid management who are detached from reality, executive jets, inconsistent and constantly changing strategies, lying and cheating, executive hubris, and a long list of unsatisfied customers. Ultimately, it was the overpowering and unbending personality
of Craig Winn that brought the company down. In deference to Winn, it was much more than just his personality that brought down Value America; however, his personality, which was one of his greatest assets, was also his biggest detriment.
Craig Winn was one part businessman and one part preacher. His close ties with Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed, as the book details, are no coincidence. Winn's ultimate vision was not just to create a multi-billion dollar company; he also set his sites on both the Governorship of Virginia and, ultimately, the United States presidency. Winn based his presidential aspirations on his meeting and conversations -- which were quite brief
-- with personalities such as William Bennett and Henry Kissinger. (I once met Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for the Doors, in a Los Angeles supermarket, but I left my aspirations for rock and roll stardom in aisle 5. Perhaps if Winn would have done the same, and stayed in touch with reality, he might have been more than a momentary paper billionaire.)
As with any book written by an insider, one has to keep in mind the subjective nature of Kuo's narrative. Nonetheless, as someone who has worked internally and as a consultant at several dot.com startups, I found that much of the book sounded familiar and believable.
Although the story of Value America is somewhat dated in Internet time, it still is a fascinating read of how something so right could go so wrong.