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The Venture Cafe 128

Victor Cruz writes "If there is one thing I can't stand, it's watching a bunch of rich, fat, overpaid, overhyped dot-con executives blathering on and on about some "business lessons" they supposedly learned while they were out wasting millions of dollars of venture capitalists' money. When I came across Teresa Esser's new book, "The Venture Cafe: Secrets, Strategies, and Stories from America's High-Tech Entrepreneurs," I thought it was going to be that same thing all over again." Read on for the dramatic conclusion!
The Venture Cafe: Secrets, Strategies, and Stories from America's High-Tech Entrepreneurs
author Teresa Esser
pages 280
publisher Warner Books
rating 9 - reads like a novel
reviewer Victor Cruz
ISBN 0-446-52783-1
summary Non-fictional accounts of entrepreneurs' struggles and triumphs

Oh, no, I thought. Not another one of these rags-to-riches, I've-got-mine and-so-now-I'm-going-to-rub-your-face-in-it type books.

Thanks, but I've had enough. And then I took a moment to actually read this thing.

Turns out that this Teresa Esser isn't even an entrepreneur -- she's the wife of an entrepreneur. So what business does she have trying to tell me how to start a company?

Esser watched her husband start an Ethernet telephone firm that was eventually sold to 3Com for $90 million. After the company was sold, she spent three years interviewing 150 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, corporate lawyers and high-tech headhunters about how a person can start their own high-tech company.

She interviewed members of the MIT blackjack team, asking them what it was like to gamble with other people's money. That's what the high-tech entrepreneurs were doing, you know, when they were financing their businesses with venture capital.

A lot of these new companies wound up going out of business. But some of them did not. Some of the new companies ACTUALLY SUCCEEDED at creating wealth for their investors -- including their venture capitalists, which more often than not happen to be pension funds.

So, when these high-tech entrepreneurs succeed at solving a problem and creating a solution and getting the product to market, and achieving a liquidity event, they make money for their investors.

There are a lot of business authors who spend half of the book thanking their wives for putting up with their obnoxious behavior and the other half bragging about how great they are.

Teresa Esser doesn't brag, really. I have to say, I admired how candid Esser was when she was talking about serious problems, like the time her husband got burned out and had to leave his company.

This was obviously a very painful experience, but she lays it all on the line. Esser didn't have to go back and dredge up those repressed memories about what it was like when her husband was on the verge of losing control of the technical direction his company was taking, and freaked out and asked Esser to turn off the electricity so that they would have to prematurely end an annoying board meeting.

She didn't have to fly to White Plains, New York and convince the God of high-tech headhunting, Chuck Ramsey, to spill the beans on how exactly you convince an top-ranked executive to leave his job and join a high-tech startup.

But she did.

She could have spent the past three years lying on the beach in the Bahamas, drinking pina coladas and putting on sunscreen. Instead, she schlepped around Boston's financial district, asking jaded venture capitalists how an unknown entrepreneur could increase her chances of obtaining venture capital financing.

You know, most of these dot-com brag books make me sick. But I have to say, this one made me laugh.

I liked the story about the rat. These two kids started a company out of a disgusting apartment in Philadelphia and they tried to have a formal business meeting with a director of new business development from a Wall Street financial firm, but it was hard because they had these twelve-inch rats.

When the director of new business development came to visit, they didn't even have any clean cups to serve him tap water in. That story was funny. They gave the director of new business development a dirty dinosaur cup that they had gotten free from Burger King. And then he left. And the guys tried to figure out what had gone wrong with the meeting.

I mean, okay, okay. It's hard to start a new company. But with a book like this, at least you know that you're not the only one going through hard times.

To go through your own hard times, you can from The Venture Cafe from bn.com Also, check out The Venture Cafe web site. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit yours, read the book review guidelines, then hit the submission page.

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The Venture Cafe

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  • it's watching a bunch of rich, fat, overpaid, overhyped

    Until here I thought you were talking about union workers.

    dot-con executives

    Well, they are usually a waste, but you should calm down before you post something. I almost thought you were CmdrTaco.
    • I wish I had some mod points left, lol. Well said!

    • the article lead in sentence had it right.

      dont use VC if you prize you company, VC in
      swahilli "means snake in the grass who deceives
      and steals and slithers away to its next victim"

      anyone using VC is committing business SUICIDE !!
  • by dmccarty ( 152630 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @12:29PM (#3617872)
    Read on for the dramatic conclusion!

    Kind of reminds me of those cheesy kung fu movies you see at the video store with a description like:

    • Don't miss the exciting last half hour, in which it is revealed that the brotherhood of Purple Shaolins was actually founded by Tsao Houxi!
    • Make sure to watch the dramatic martial arts conclusion as Red Daggers Li at the last second defeats Black Dragon Xu!
    Or my personal chrisd favorite:
    • Hey folks, "she" is actually a he!!!

    I mean, okay, okay. It's hard to start a new company. But with a book like this, at least you know that you're not the only one going through hard times.

    And this "dramatic conclusion" ends with a Joe Pesci line--okay okay okay--that I would've recognized as terrible writing when I was nine. Hey Slashdot, since you're posting book review stories by the uneducated, can my little brother write one?

  • "...a bunch of rich, fat, overpaid, overhyped dot-con executives blathering on and on about some "business lessons" they supposedly learned while they were out wasting millions of dollars of venture capitalists' money..."

    Whether they learned something or not, they are apparently making more money than you are. Your opinions over their results... Hmmmm...
    • "It's not a difficult thing to make a lot of money if all one wants out of life is to make a lot of money." -Citizen Kane
      • Of course, I doubt the author of that article can make that kind of judgement call as to their character.
      • AMEN brother. This is why those who want to make the mad cash piss me off so much - many of them spend so much time making money that they rarely have the opportunity or curtousey to learn skills and knowledge that is useful to an individual. They end up knowing things and working hard, I'm not arguing that - but they are working hard to make money, and end up only knowing the game of financial gain.

        Money makers at the end of the sales pipeline have a 0% chance of making money if their service is not done, or their product is not produced. Service folks and engineers and producers at the start of the pipeline (and the furthest away from the customers' cheque) etc may not be the best at selling, but at least its conceivable that they could do so since they are the only ones who can create the thing you're selling.

        Anyhow, I dont think she wrote the book to make the proverbial phat cash - from what I understand about the publishing industry, she would have had opportunities for dozens of better paying safer bets.
      • I believe it's "Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money if all you want is to make a lot of money."
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The VC firms usually made out pretty well on the dot-com's. When the dot-com went public at $410 per share, the VC cashed out. VC's, broker's, and investment banks made tons of money while the personal investor totally fleeced.

    Of course, one might have suspected that something untoward was happening. If a company goes public at $14 a share and closes at $400, the company has been done a tremendous disservice by the VC and investment bank. The money is supposed to be going to capital for the company. The company shares should have been priced at $400. The company looses, and the investor looses. The VC, broker, and investment banker win! The VC wins by offloading a loser company at tremendous gains, the broker wins with commisions on a grossly overvalued stock, and the investment bank wins by taking a stock public and retaining lots of options at $14.
    • From the review:

      So, when these high-tech entrepreneurs succeed at solving a problem and creating a solution and getting the product to market, and achieving a liquidity event, they make money for their investors.

      And this statement proves it the "bandits" theory. Don't start a business to actually be viable, to employ people, to try and add to the public good. Instead, start a company so that you can get it "to liquidity" and then get out with your money.

      If you were actually paying attention during the dot-com era, most of these companies actually made it their sole corporate goal -- to bring the company public. That's the only reason they were started, so the founders could cash out.

  • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @12:44PM (#3617971) Journal

    I had a difficult time understanding what this book "does" for the reader from this review. Is it simply a collection of stories of people who succeeded and those who didn't. Or does she provide some kind of analysis and state what she thinks were the important reasons for success?

    I would be very interested if this book postulates some reasons (even though it must always be remembered that they are her opinions and not facts) but if it's just a collection of stories, then why should I buy this book? I can read all about the rediculous wastes that went on during the dot-com years in the newspaper. Or see that one documentary movie whose name I forget now (you know, it was that one where the filmakers planned on following the success story of a startup only to end up capturing the true story of a dream gone bad).

    Hey, if anyone has some theories about what seperated the winners from the losers, please post a reply to this message. I'd be interested in hearing them. I was never involved in the dot-com bust (except via the stock market) so I really "missed out" on an important lesson here. And I'm not convienced that this book would help me out.


    • The movie (documentary) was called Startup.com [imdb.com]
    • Is it simply a collection of stories of people who succeeded and those who didn't. Or does she provide some kind of analysis and state what she thinks were the important reasons for success?

      ... if it's just a collection of stories, then why should I buy this book?

      So you can get a few raw facts and draw your OWN conclusions about what works and what doesn't?
      • Re:So you can ... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @01:12PM (#3618124) Journal

        So you can get a few raw facts and draw your OWN conclusions about what works and what doesn't?

        There's certainly something to be said about that point of view. Indeed, almost immediately after my original post I realized someone was going to say this. However, it's the "few raw facts" part that bothers me. The review says that the author spent 3 years and interviewed 150 people involved in the dot-com story. I guarantee that she didn't commit each of those 150 stories to paper. I suspect that she just took the most shocking (e.g., the rat story) and wrote about them. And I sure as hell am not going to spend 3 years myself to figure out the facts. The bottom line is that when I read something, I expect the author to give me their "expert opinion." Now I want to emphasize that I am not going to mindlessly accept and assimilate that opinion. I do want to see some good supplementary logic and some case histories. But in my case (someone who was not involved in the dot-com crash) I have NO experience and really do have to rely heavily on someone elses. This is actually the purpose behind my post. Remember I asked for slashdotters to submit their opinions, knowing full well that there is going to be a lot of disagreement. I reserve the right to accept any or none of what I see.

        I like to read other people's opinions (provided that I respect them as intelligent and have some knowledge of what they are talking about). That's why I come to slashdot: we've got ample amounts of people from both camps here (and for those of you who think I'm karma-whoring by praising slashdot, I've nearly got my 50).

        Bottom line: I agree that you have a point but I am skeptical that this book (or any book) which is simply a collection of "a few raw facts" is going to provide me with a statisically significant amount of data from which to formulate a theory.


        • Re:So you can ... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by sabinm ( 447146 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @02:09PM (#3618522) Homepage Journal
          I have'nt read the book. But I do know some things about Dot Coms. And I'll tell you something important. It's not a big deal to go out of business. Most ventures fail. Most enteprise businessmen have a business failure twice in their career. The most damning fault of all dot comm companies is that after failure, they all gave up. And we (yes, I too) spent time making fun of them instead of realizing that business failure is a fact of life.

          If I had a chance to grab my boss, I'd tell him a couple of things: DO NOT separate the techs from the non techs. Techs are not gods or even the trump card. Techs will not one day rule the world. The world will be ruled as it has always been ruled , by the three Ps: Politicians, Priests and Poets.

          Concentrate on your SALES FORCE. A lot of programmers, sys admins, some execs who got their job the easy way, don't think a sales force is nessecary, as if their product would sell itself. NO PRODUCT EVER SELLS ITSELF. Get able, hard-working people staffed in your sales force, and get a good sales manager. Make sure the sales force uses the product. They don't have to be technical. Most sales are not to technical entities, but to non-technical businesses.

          Pay/train your customer service/tech support well. Don't skimp on tech support. You don't want your coders having to solve tech's problems, and you don't want your tech support handling angry clients. Use the right tool for the right jobs. Don't hire techs for customer support. Don't promote people to tech support who do not have good problem solving skills. If they are good customer service reps, give them a promotion, or a raise, but don't put customer service reps in your tech support division. Keep your programmers programming and not answering tech-support questions.

          Reward consistently, expect more. Don't give 10,000 bonuses unless the people deserve it. If everyone owns Porches, how can you tell who's your hardest worker? Reward excellence with excellence, reward laziness with the boot. When someone screws up but works hard, help them, don't punish them, but don't give them financial incentive if they havent generated revenue. When they generate revenue, then reward financially.

          Make do with less than high tech. Companies went out and bought cisco 8500 switches and 7200 routers. The bought service contracts for thousands for each. They had a total of fifty employees and no high bandwidth utilization. Spend what you have and make do otherwise. Don't buy your equipment outright. Go to a holding company and lease if from them. It's cheaper in the long run if you plan to expand within five years. Remember fixed costs are zero in the long run. Spend as little as possible and get as much as possible.

          I'm not saying that the DOT COM period would have been as great as we thought, all I'm saying is that a lot of good companies went down with the bad because of poor planing or people like me on the side lines saying: "I knew they'd fail". It's okay to fail and even to be an inexperienced company. But for what it's worth, get experienced financial and legal advice at least and manage your company like a BUSINESS and not like a chess club.
          • You forgot having an actual product or service that is not only sellable, but not given away for free. Seems to me that a lot of the dotGones had business plans that was only Blue Smoke and mirrors and we know how far BS will get you.
          • The world will be ruled as it has always been ruled , by the three Ps: Politicians, Priests and Poets.

            Those poets man... destorying entire cities with their trite couplets, abusing little children in the bathroom stalls at the "Slams"... Someone please free us from the tyranny of the poets!

          • Let me guess, you're a salesman who writes poetry, yes?
          • Despite the quickly passed buck, most of the dotcoms were conceived, build, and run by that blesses sales force of yours, not the techies. Sure, the techies got $50,000 salaries, $700 chairs, and free tshirts, which probably impressed alot of dudes who theretofore had only worked at 7-11 and hacked in their mothers' basements, but the reason they were able to surf for pr0n all day and buy cool routers they didn't need was because their ignorant bosses were all fresh out of school MBAs with family connections who changed a few words on their senior projects and got millions in VC funding.
          • While I agree with you on every aspect here, I find it necessary to add another point:

            While some of the dot-coms had a great sales force, they lacked an actual useful product. Just look at all the dot-coms which advertised at the super bowl.

            Look at AOL. Do they have a good product? Sure, we see their ads everywhere (tv, radio, mail, billboards, milk cartons, and the list goes on), but how many AOL users are even aware that alternatives exist? Those who do usually end up switching ISPs. Does Dell really make computers which are superior to the ones made by my local OEM - are they actually easier to use?

            On the flipside, look at TiVo. They have a revolutionary product which wasn't marketed as good as it could have (I was skeptical about it until I actually used one, and then got one for myself). Definitely a marketing failure.

            Same thing with AMD processors, which are in many ways (but not all) superior to Pentium chips - AMD only made ONE television ad, which I believe did caused a sales increase. Until last year, most people had never even heard of an athlon, or simply dismissed it as worthless crap (god, I hate people who make judgments such as that so quickly without thought). Intel runs ads for their chips (which advertise features of their CPUS which either don't exist, or have existed for over 4 years (processor that enhances the internet.... plllleeaaase)

            A good example of a company which has successfully intergrated their marketing department and programmers is apple. They run a healthy amount of advertising, create an appealing product, as well as creating a good, useful, quality product. Look how apple has been working its way back into the mainstream since Jobs took over - when apple stopped advertising, they hit a slump.

            Of course, there is a true art to advertising in which the viewer is kept entertained and interested while discovering the true value of the product. How fun is an infomercial to watch? How informative were those mLife ads at the Super Bowl? How enjoyable are the yahoo ads to watch? Yahoo lets the viewer know about their services, while providing humor (Which ties into the product). Even the E-Trade *wasting a million bucks monkey* ad was successful in this respect. Apple's 1984 ad is another good example.

            Of course, a start-up shouldn't be advertising at the super-bowl. They don't need to waste money.

            And then there's BetaMax...
    • There is a sample chapter [twbookmark.com] of the book that you might want to read to see if it interests you. The FAQ [theventurecafe.com] also has lots of interesting advise.

      I was never involved in the dot-com bust (except via the stock market) so I really "missed out" on an important lesson here. And I'm not convienced that this book would help me out.
      You should probably buy the book then. Personally I've gone through 6 jobs in the last 3 years. All of them .coms and all of them have gone bankrupt while I've been working for them. I've learned an awful lot about what not to do when starting a business. I know I could get a job working for a more stable company but I like working for small startups. You just have to keep a few things in mind.
      • Don't accept a reduced salary in exchange for more stock options. You need to be able to pay your bills and you don't want to end up in the hole if/when the company goes under.
      • When the shit hits the fan don't get stressed out. It's not your fault that the company is going down the tubes.
      • Don't rock the boat too much. I've worked for a few companies that have a really bad idea for a product. Like the company that had a toolkit so you could easily create WAP enabled web sites. Problem was the sample "hello world" included with the kit was over 1000 lines of code. I tried numerous times to point out to management that a toolkit is supposed to make things simpler not more complex but they just didn't get it. Anyway, when you see management making a mistake a good employee will bring it to their attention but ultimately management has the right to screw things up.
      You haven't lived until you've worked for a dot com. I'd also highly recommend reading How to Crash and Burn your Java Project [mcbreen.ab.ca]. I didn't write the article but I was on the Java project that inspired it so I know that it's based on a true story.
    • Hey, if anyone has some theories about what seperated the winners from the losers, please post a reply to this message. I'd be interested in hearing them.

      I have a theory - no, it's actually a conjecture. You see, I have no evidence, no experience and no real business training, and I may even be painfully restating the entirely obvious.


      there's a lot of world to be seen driving from the back seat of the "Monday-Morning-Quarterback Express", so here's my thought:

      IMHO, the ones that survived (Yahoo, Amazon, etc. - even /.!) didn't try create markets by throwing money around. They started small with a useful idea (sometimes as a hobby, not even intending to end up 'in bidness') and grew from there, pulling in resources like IPOs and VC when the price of doing so made sense to accomplish a specific bidness goal. The companies that exploded were speculating heavily on being 'first' over being 'good'.

      The key is 'sustainable growth'. If you look at a company as a bucket with a faucet dumping money in the the top and a hole letting money out the bottom, few .coms even tried to make the whole in the bottom smaller before adding more money in the top - and many didn't *have* a bottom to begin with. In short, they were too busy making money to fix the problem with their bidnesses.

      I remember a famous Wall St. investor (don't remember which one - Warren Buffett, maybe?) said that when investing, you make the money when you BUY the stock, not when you sell it. Same goes for running a company - it's the EXPENSES that decide whether startups live or die, not the income. How much are Aeron chairs on Ebay this week?

      I really don't think the .com bubble was any different than any other mad-lemming-kung-fu bidness debacle, except for *scale* -- it was about computers and technology, so more people than usual were ignorant enough to pony up the dough to spin the wheel on 'the future' without understanding what they were buying.

  • Now, we all know what Slashdot readers want to see ...

    Grrrr [theventurecafe.com]

  • Could we get some ^M's in there .. please??

  • i think the whole dot.com bust was basically a self-fullfilling profecy. Industry observers, and anyone else who didn't get in on the dot.com boom because they thought it would come crashing down were looking for something to call a 'dot.com crash' in order to justify their not taking the risk and getting involved themselves.

    So the first time the industry showed any signs of slowing down, they (newspaper writers included) said 'oh look, there's the bust, I told you it would happen. I knew I was right not getting into it.'

    But what really happend? Sure some guys had to get real jobs, but their effort (and investor's dollars) were not wasted. They are like ants who drown themselves so that other ants can walk across the dead bodies to the food (analogies rule!).

    So what separated the drowners from the walkers? Same things as always, innovation, practical thinking, communication skills and HARD WORK.

    • Re:dot.com bust? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by eyegor ( 148503 )
      Timing is a big factor too.

      I went to a .com back in '97 with the hopes of making mega bucks. The companies stock had just split and I had a TON of options as a signing bonus. The stock went up another 25% in the months just after I started. Now it's a tenth of its value.

      It was frustrating working with all of the 25 year old tecchie millionaires and the "new-rich" asshole managers. It is almost a caste system now. The "old-timers" who have been there for 5 or more years, and the feeble-minded newcomers who are sweating their lives away chasing the dream they can never have.

      I've since left the company. While I was there, I learned a great deal about the realities of the .com experience. Those still left are working longer hours with a higher stress levels and watching their precious options continuing to wither. Sucks to be them. hehheh
      • Well, money isn't everything...

        People with alot of money and no knowlegde of what it takes to earn and keep money usually end up loosing their money.

        I say you came out ahead of those rich punks, b/c you have some knowledge about what it takes to really succeed over the long term.

        ~just a thought
    • i think the whole dot.com bust was basically a self-fullfilling profecy.

      The real reason for the dot-com bust was revealed in yesterday's article [com.com]:

      "What we found is a disturbing behavioral trend that violates copyright laws and
      costs billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs every year," BSA CEO Robert Holleyman said in a statement.

      No, the "disturbing behavioral trend" was not bad management or wasteful practices... but software piracy!

  • This sounds like a mixture of two of my least [www.cbc.ca] favourite [www.cbc.ca] CBC programs. Which wouldn't surprise me, knowing CBC executives.
  • "If there is one thing I can't stand, it's watching a bunch of rich, fat, overpaid, overhyped dot-con..."

    Did you mean ESR? I mean, he qualifies in all those ..


    Executive is one thing the man is not ... Case in point:
    http://tuxedo.org/~esr/graphics/raymond007 -3.jpg
    • i imagine that you haven't seen real executives very much, other than the beautiful people that the popular press likes to present. imagine warren buffet in shorts and a t-shirt. sexy huh? it's a damn shame that accomplishment is linked with slick speaking skills and a good body. one time i saw this extremely wealthy executive in bad shorts and a faded t-shirt on an old sear's ten-speed.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...book review stories by the uneducated?

    Mmmm, this smells like a person with a pipi complex. Dude, grow up! This is not a technical review, just a general one about a novel like investment-related book. He took the time to read the book and then give us for free his take on it. Short and to the point, what else do you want for this type of book. Hey, Evert has been making a bundle of money for years doing much less reviewing movies and I don't see anyone calling him uneducated. I mean how do you know this guy doesn't have a PhD and/or a ton of working experience. I personally couldn't care less about his background, but it seems that a few folks with a big complex do. Okay, so from now on everyone has to state their educational background (as if it really matters here?!) starting with me...okay, I have a BSEE and an MS in Comp Sci + 10+ years of technical experience. Jee, maybe I don't make the grade to be writing this??! I'll try to complete my PhD next time...
  • Why hasn't the /. crew done something about these stupid page widening posts?

    And why don't they show the story when you change the threshold? I upped the threshold to +1 and now the story disappears and I'm left with only the comments...
  • I don't hate these rat bastards for having money. I hate them for thinking of the damn idea before me, so I could do it! They have a right to brag. The did something probably most people are completely unable to do, because of society. Mostly because of the nature of their gender, but on top of that the level of "virtual" balls they need to stand up and get knocked down a couple of times before getting it right. Go back to hacking on your keyboard, because obviously Vic, you won't be owning your own company any time soon because of the "no-balls" factor :)
  • by dmorin ( 25609 ) <dmorinNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday May 31, 2002 @01:55PM (#3618430) Homepage Journal
    ...did the kids with the rats and the Burger King cup get $5 million in VC money?? :) See, THAT would be a funny story. Granted, funny in sort of a "shoot me in the head now" type of way, but still funny.
  • by PeterMiller ( 27216 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @02:21PM (#3618605)
    In the early stages of planning an ISP biz about 7 years ago, my partner and I had organized a meeting at his place with our potential bank manager. He lived with 3 other people in a "soon to be condemned" building. We looked somewhat presentable, and the room was semi clean (roaches took a vacation) but I think we were a little concerned when one of his roommates arrived with an underage teenage girl under each arm, and noisily disappeared into his bedroom.

    Needless to say we did'nt get that bank all fired up about our business plan.
  • Thanks for the review. This sounds like a book I definitely want to read. One small nitpick ... "achieving a liquidity event"??? Jeeez.
  • I read the sample chapter on the website and I will not be reading the rest of the book. Bold statements such as this:
    "The ideal entrepreneur is not the kind of person that you'd want as a personal friend," Gill tells me. "The phrase we use in England is throwing Teddy out of the pram.' If they don't get their way, they get very upset. Without realizing it, they tend to be manipulative.

    "Entrepreneurs have to be completely driven by vision, such that they only see what they want to see. Sometimes businesses go off the rails because they have a CEO who can't see some of the warning signs, but that's why there needs to be a team of at least two. You need the Genghis Khan' CEO and the safe pair of hands' CFO."

    prove that those guys are the same dotcom crowd that ruined the tech industry by implementing their silly 'visions'. The very last thing I want is to work for another frigging 'visionary' at my company. All those 'visionary' CEOs were basically pipe dreamers whose ideas were either unimplementable or impractical to the point of being absurd. We all remember the 'visionaries' behind Petsmart, Dr Koop, Boo, March 1st, Viant and so on. They were so blinded by their own ideas that they wouldn't listen to their own (and others') common sense.

    Stupid CEOs who think up those 'grand' ideas are the ones to blame for the dotcom crash. Take the example from this book. The paperless train ticket system... Nifty idea with a lot of ridiculous barriers that make it impractical. Most trains tickets are purchased at the station with no security gates (yet) no baggage check in and the whole hoopla that goes with air travel. For that purpose the paper ticket is the natural obvious and efficient solution. But the enterpreneur in the book obviously doesn't see it that way. He's already obsessing about his vision without giving it some clear headed thought.

    • Plenty of successful CEO's have vision. Gates, Ellison, McNeely, Jobs, Eisner, Case, Dell.....etc. They all have grand visions and they're all successful. I think what is necessary is a capability to recognize that sometimes you are wrong.
      • I have to say that Ellison and McNealy are visionaries to some extent. They are however very practical 'visionaries' who simply improve upon existing systems instead of venturing into new areas they have no knowledge of. Bill Gates is the master of the 'copy and improve' business model. It's difficult to actually brand him a 'visionary' but his pragmatic approach to computing certainly paid off.

        Ellison and McNealy tend to free-wheel a bit more than your average CEO but then again their companies have experienced relatively more up and down cycles. Obviously in case of Ellison it paid off handsomely.

        I guess we're saying the same thing. It's ok to have a goal that you strive towards. At the same time it's even more important to be flexible and realise that sometimes you must adjust your ideas for the real world and often dramatically revise your initial plans. Obviously you might go extreme in this direction and catch a corporate attention deficit disorder (vide. Michael Cowpland).

        I'm thinking about starting my own company (and a high tech one at that) and been thinking a lot about all these issues. But I just don't think this particular book has the answers I'm looking for or even enough quality content to justify spending my time reading it. And this conclusion I drew from reading the entire sample chapter.

    • Visions drive innovations.
      Without new ideas to add to this eco-system of the economy, things will grind to a stop - see communist countries from 70s - 90s.
      For example Jeff Bezo had no vision and insistence, Amazon.com would not be what it is today. The statis quo needs to be challenged, if you can't even believe in yourself and your own ideas, you'll be stuck believing other people's beliefs. (One frightening example is the fight about teaching Evolution in the US)

      I believe in the system where bad ideas fail. The side effect of this eco-system is - you can't for sure know it's a bad idea until you've tried it.

      The people at fault for the last crash are the investors that think they have to be "IN" on the tech stocks and think there are no risks.
      Also the same investors that pressure the companies to grow beyond control -"what are you doing with our money?"

      If some of those investors happen to be pension plan managers - they should have invested like people's lives depends on it - because they are!

      I'd like to know what brain dead people you work for - do they have any ideas of their own? Can you have leadership without a vision?

      Good movie to see by the way is "Startup dot Com" - give you the more human relationship side of .com startup.

      If you'd excuse me, I'm going to check out this book.
      • About the pension funds, they actually do. They invest some of their money in venture capital and generally are quite successful. The highest exposure is about 5%. Most keep at least 30-50% in bonds, which did quite well. Asset allocations are done according to modern portfolio theory, which seems strange but begins to make senese when you think of it, what seems counter intuitive is that adding a very risky asset can lower overall risk if the movements in price do not move with the assets you currently own. Pensions had a rough year last year but I would be surprised if they didn't generally make money over the past 2 years. I happen to work for one. Also in most cases, pensions that are invested in VC would be defined benefit plans, so the company and the government is on the hook. The fund simply allows the company to invest some of the cost now, so they don't have to contribute as much in the future.
  • Well, I had first impressions of the cafeteria at the local Venture, where you get an Icee, an old hot dog, and a pretzel.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday May 31, 2002 @04:11PM (#3619295) Homepage
    This is one of the lesser business books. There are far better commentaries on the dot-com mess. The new edition of "The Internet Bubble" contains more insight. Especially since the first edition was published before the collapse.

    I'd like to see a good "where are they now" book covering the CEOs of disasterous startups.

  • I don't need a book for this... I know the secret recipe!

    "Go to Menlo Park. Shake a tree. A venture capitalist will fall out.

    Wave your hands and say these high-tech buz words.

    "Online comerce. B2B. Wireless Internet!"

    The VC will give you $4Million dollars.

    Hire 20 people, publish lots of hype, stir for six months, and go public.

    Your IPO stock will inflate rapidly, and you'll become Mozillionaires.

    Your share is $30M dollars. Go to Menlo Park. Climb a tree.

    Uma cabaca, um arame, um pedaco de pau!
  • RATS! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If you have a solid business idea, even rats won't keep investors away.

    At DEC in the early days the hardware engineers worked during the day and ran all the rats into the programmers area, then, the programmers worked at night and ran the rats back over to the engineering area. They somehow managed to create a company that made $Billions a year of real money. Granted, they only lasted 40 years or so until they were bought by Compaq but some of the dot-bombs didn't last 40 days...
  • Its amazing how little this quality exists in society. The success of a company depends on the number of managers with common sense outnumbering those without.

    At this point, management can make decisions faster than logic.
  • Remember this Dilbert, the one were Wally gets a bunch of money because he has a cool ponytail?

    See Here [dakine.net]


    See Here [dakine.net]


When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.