• United States
Contributing Writer

At the frontline of an e-commerce dot-bomb

Feb 18, 20032 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Dot-bomber lives to tell the tale

Have you ever set back and thought about the past three years? I’m sure that if you lived on the front lines of the dot-com era you would want to block it out. A book I read last week really helps put it in perspective.

J. David Kuo writes in his bestseller, “Dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath” about the happiness and heartache of the boom era. Kuo, who made his life in politics, took the leap to an e-commerce start-up just before its tumultuous and very public fall.

Kuo took on a senior-level communications job with Value America, believing wholeheartedly in the company and its mission. Like many dot-comers, he was sure he was going to get rich following a concept. The concept in this case was “inventoriless” retail.

Craig Winn, the eccentric founder of Value America, convinced investors, partners and customers alike that the key to success in e-commerce is to broker a direct link between the customer and the warehouse – carrying no inventory in the process.

But Value America, as Kuo tells the tale, was fraught with problems from their e-commerce software platform to their business partnerships to their marketing efforts. Every turn seemed to have some major glitch that forced the company into dire straits.

At the helm of all this madness was Winn, who had a penchant for preannouncing business partnerships, embellishing the capabilities of the company’s infrastructure and a taste for finer things that put the company’s books in a tailspin.

Kuo’s book is a terrific ride through the boom and bust. Kuo really gets you inside the passion that was felt during that time – the exhuberance to be “part of something bigger.” And the intense pressure to constantly up the stock value.

I was exhausted reading this book – which I dusted off during an East Coast to West Coast flight – just as I’m sure Kuo and his cohorts felt as they experienced what they did.

It’s a great read and reminds us in the most cerebral way what the dot-com era was truly about.