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The Almighty Buck

.Com Millionaires: Where are they now? 193

Sivar writes "They came pitching gee-whiz business plans and painting visions of integrated platforms, enabling technologies, and wizardry beyond compare. They created billions in wealth that seemed built on--and that all too often evaporated into--thin air. More than thirty former .com millionaires, what they were, and what they are now are on Fortune.com. One on sabbatical, one awaiting a prison sentence, there are some interesting transitions some have had."
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.Com Millionaires: Where are they now?

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  • Would you like some McDonaldland cookies with that?
  • by pvera ( 250260 ) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:15AM (#4215304) Homepage Journal
    3,000. Problem is their managers at Kinkos, Starbucks and Target would not give them the time-off for the interview.
  • This former .com millionaire is taking a few months off.
  • no Shawn Fanning?
  • This is fucked up! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by red5 ( 51324 ) <gired5.gmail@com> on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:26AM (#4215322) Homepage Journal
    From the article [fortune.com].
    Patrick Naughton, 37
    Then: Infoseek
    Now: Software development
    This former Infoseek EVP pleaded guilty in 2000 to crossing state lines with the intent to have sex with a minor he met in an Internet chat room. To avoid jail time, he agreed to help the FBI develop software programs to catch Internet pedophiles and other sexual predators.


    Does anybody else find it disturbing that not only did they (FBI) let a pedophile off the hook but they also let him design their system for catching pedophiles. Not only is he free to rape children, but because he designed the system he knows how to avoid detction also. Great job FBI I feel really safe knowing you're there to protect my children.
    • "rape children"? As far as anyone knows, he never touched a child.
      -russ
      • ok moderators. this is not OFF topic. it's completely on the topic of the 30 millionares, and also on topic with the parent post.
      • The parent said, "Not only is he free to rape children"--he didn't say that Mr. Naughton actually succeeded in doing so, thank goodness. The point is that Mr. Naughton managed to avoid imprisonment despite his guilty plea, so he is indeed free to try again if he hasn't learned his lesson.
    • He should be sued for killing the great infoseek, which was a great search engine too...
      • He should be sued for killing the great infoseek, which was a great search engine too...

        I agree with you there infoseek ruled. Search within a search was way too cool.
    • Patrick Naughton was doing something wrong, but he did not 'rape children'. He was caught by a sting and made a plea bargain. It looks like he did serve some time in 'home detention'. In our great American system he has the right to do this. I bet he has leaned his lesson. I bet he also realizes what a loser he was to even think about the sort of crime he committed.

      I am glad the FBI has someone smart working for them that can help catch the real pedophiles.

      The sort of hysteria spouted by the original poster does not help.

      For more details on the original case see Google.

      http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-88 59 -1&q=%22Patrick+Naughton%22+java+crossing+arrested +state+lines

      • by Anonymous Coward
        It looks like he did serve some time in 'home detention'

        Judge> Mr. Naughton, you have pled guilty to attempting to solicit sex from a minor on the Internet. Do you understand?

        PN> Yes sir.

        Judge> You are hereby sentenced to home detention for 120 days during which time you may not leave for any reason. Do you understand?

        PN> Uhm. Do I get to use my computer?

        Judge> Yes, you just cannot leave the premises. Do you understand?

        PN> YES! *ahem*. I mean yes, your honor .
    • Control yourself a bit. He admitted to have the INTENT TO HAVE SEX WITH A MINOR.

      I will be adamant on this position: Intending to have (willful) sex with a 17-year-old woman is NOT the same thing as raping children, which you imply quite harshly.
    • The "child" he was arrested for contacting was actually an FBI agent pretending to be a 13 year old girl. Unfortunately the FBI entrapped him and thats why he's not in prison. So no he's not out there waiting any minute now to "rape" anyone.
    • This doesn't surprise me. It seems like if YOU have the money, you make the rules. This is what happened in this case.
  • by kasperd ( 592156 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:31AM (#4215335) Homepage Journal
    Joe Park:
    • Then: Kozmo.com
    • Now: Harvard Business School
    I never heard of Joe Park or kozmo.com, but It does sound like this person finally found out there was something he should have learned before starting his adventure.
    • Kozmo.com was an internet delivery thing in San Fran, I think... You would log on, and order food and movie rentals, and they'd deliver to your door.

      When they folded (what, you mean they were supposed to MAKE!?!?! money), all of the rental DVDs got scooped up by Hastings, and sent all over the country to sell as pre-viewed. I picked up a couple cheap movies that way.
      • Actually, it had several cities covered LA, NY Boston,Seatle and San Fransisco. The Boston area did make profit, but not enough for five cities.
      • As I remember it these were both viably on the way to profitability and in both cases their founders hadn't wanted to expand so fast. They knew perfectly well that they should figure things out in suitable cities like New York and San Fran first.
        It was the VCs who imposed the condition that they start in so many cities at once to make the revenue numbers *look* good even though the founders made no bones about the fact that the profits would suffer.
        Blame the VCs, folks. The founders certainly get their share but primarily I blame a VC culture that was out to scam people from the very beginning.
        Here in New York especially, UF had all the characteristics of a good startup. Customers loved the service and they provided it well. They were considered good to work for but weren't too heavy on the money-wasting blowouts. Their customers were increasingly willing to pay premium prices for what they realized was a premium service. If they hadn't been pushed into starting in ridiculous cities like Houston they'ld still be with us today and we'ld all be better off.

        Let's face it, folks. The dot com boom was a product of changing pension regulations and a herd of bankers looking for places to park billions of dollars of other people's money. The VCs invested in people they'ld enjoy hanging out with at a bar and left the rest to junior staff. And, AND, the same assholes still control most of the money that is supposed to go to starting businesses in America.

        They transferred billions of dollars from (mostly blue collar) pensions to a legion of frat boys and their professionally blonde bar pals. Much of the rest was just window dressing.
        Disgusted to admit that I'm shopping my own business plan soon,

        Rustin
      • Kozmo was started in NYC, and their NYC warehouses were actually profitable.
        Their mistake was expanding too fast (i.e. to places like San Francisco) w/out incubating in NY for a little while first.

        Plus, there was huge overhead in trying to run the place like a billion dollar company - as I can attest to from my few short months there when I drank a lot of free Starbucks / played a lot of foosball instead of working.

        OT: btw, having had access to old order history while testing our code - you'd be amazed how many people were getting twizzlers+porn delivered at 10 in the morning

    • kozmo.com (and the founding members) were the subject of a documentary called 'eDreams' which made a run on the independent film circuit. You might catch it every once in a blue moon on the Sundance channel or IFC.

      If you're interested in seeing a play-by-play of a .com going bust, there's another documentary called 'startup.com' about govworks.com and it's founding members. This one was really good at showing you what kind of people actually started these .com's. There is one scene where the two founders show up to sign a contract with a VC without bringing their lawyer, then spend an hour or so trying to get him on the phone long-distance and explain the contract to him. Real professional. Gee, I wonder why the company went under...
  • commercial failures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by octalgirl ( 580949 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:35AM (#4215344) Journal
    For anyone familiar with Internet before the dot-com stampede, it seemed a little odd that new companies were spending fortunes creating television commercials that rivaled long standing successful companies like Pepsi and Budweiser. The Internet companies that were (and remain) successful got there by word-of-mouth - on the Internet, for people savvy enough to be on the Internet. Companies like Yahoo and Amazon didn't branch into television ads until they had a strong foothold. Companies like Id software, still don't advertise (or very little) on TV, they don't need to. The e-Toys commercials were amazing, and when I first saw them I thought 'How can they do that? They must have spent a fortune on that.' Then there was the Super Bowl that was blanketed with dot-com advertising, the most expensive of ads. Years later now we know. They set up shop in cyber space, then marketed to brick and mortar consumers. They created an imaginary business model built on speculation and pipe dreams. Investors lost fortunes. They only legacy they left was a recipe for a fool-hardy business plan that we can learn NOT to follow.
    • Investors lost fortunes
      Morons lost fortunes. The only people who lost money in the dot.com crash were those stupid enough to invest in, or paid third parties to invest their money in, companies whose prospects were transparently thin. Elsewhere, Slashdotters are terribly quick to pour scorn on those who don't understand basic physics and then act shocked - shocked! - when companies with no source of revenue turn out to have been very poor investments. This is the basic economics -- the equivalent of a perpetual motion machine [slashdot.org].
    • Actually, the business plan worked perfectly. There was nothing wrong with it. The only problem is finding such gullible investors a second time. Oh well. I feel bad that I didn't incorporate myself quickly enough to scam an investor.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Westpress (UK) [westpress.co.uk] has a great article showing the haves and have-nots in the whole Internet bubble. Very interesting read.

    It really shows you that sometimes you should just leave well enough alone.

  • On balance.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mumblestheclown ( 569987 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:43AM (#4215355)
    On balance, these individuals continue to be far wealthier and more successful than the average critic here.

    I mean, even getting a job at a private equity firm, as a few of those on the list have, is fairly impressive, as is going back to business school with several million in the bank.

    • by FallLine ( 12211 ) <fallline AT operamail DOT com> on Sunday September 08, 2002 @08:54AM (#4215528)
      While I have absolutely no problem with wealth per se, I do object to the implication that they must have done something right, as the vast majority on that list simply did not create any wealth. In fact, most had a negative impact by causing money to be diverted from better investments (and from those that deserved it more). What's more, I believe that most of them learned very little from their experiences, unlike other failed entreprenuers. Compared to real entreprenuers they did not: work at the same intensity; put in the same kinds of hours; expose themselves to risk; invest their own money (by and large); have to make hard decisions (e.g., they had enough VC money to do EVERYTHING); live spartan; spend much time at it (2-3 years in many cases); face rejection; and so on...

      That they work at private equity firms and are back at business school does not impress me either, because many of my peers are in much the same position and that, in and of itself, means little. About all that I can say for them is that they HAPPEN to be wealthier than the average MBA. Might some of them some day redeem themselves? Maybe. But I'd never hire them (well 99% of them) for their DotCom experience [in fact, I'd say that the naivety/stupidity would be a mark against their intelligence] or because they got lucky enough to walk away with someone else's money.
    • It would be one thing if they'd walked away from these ventures actually having accomplished something, or having created something of lasting value. The most ironic part of all is that they even have this money in the first place - money they supposedly earned while participating in a failed venture. I hope I'm not the only one who can see that this is back-assward.
  • by Kredal ( 566494 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:46AM (#4215361) Homepage Journal
    OK, so Joe Schmo gets a bunch of investors interested in a harebrained plan, scoops up millions of dollars from them, and then loses the money.

    Where did it go? SOMEONE must have gotten rich off of the dot-com craze and subsequent bust... was it hardware manufacturers who provided all of the infrastructure for the failed-from-the start companies? Or was it the grocery store down the street, where all of the free (for employees) food and soda was bought? Who was the final filter point for all of the dot-com money?
    • Those are some of the places and then there were all of the twenty-something VPs of X (marketing, communications, business development) making $100K+ when they should have been working at Starbuck's and all of the "I know how to program HTML dudez!!!" webmasters making $60K+. Not to mention caterers for dot com "launch parties". And Herman Miller (Aeron chairs)
    • well yeah, the people that bought cheap shares and then sold them at the top of the market got rich.

      The people selling real products to the .com companies got rich (an awful lot of computer companies sold a lot of servers, really nice chairs did very well, etc.)
      • by Hanno ( 11981 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @08:14AM (#4215421) Homepage
        he people selling real products to the .com companies got rich

        Not quite, they just became part of the bubble. A number of these suppliers are now struggling because they...

        1.) delivered expensive products to .COMs and then didn't get their money when suddenly all these .COMs went bankrupt one after another at more or less the same time.

        (Also don't forget that many hardware products have a small profit margin despite being expensive, so that the manufacturer gets some profit when being paid, but loses a lot more when not being paid.)

        2.) had to grow to follow the bubble - these companies increased staff, production output, products stocked in their warehouses etc. and now are too large for the remaining market after the burst.

        That's one major reason why Telecom suppliers, server manufacturers, consulting firms and other suppliers to .COM companies are now firing staff by the thousands.

        3.) and both 1 and 2 lead to a loss of stock value of those companies that are listed at the stock market, which can also create a shortage of cash and kill a company even if it was quite able to survive after 1 and 2. But the psychology of the stock market is completely different issue.

        So to sum up, everyone who did well because of the internet bubble is having problems now. Quite a few of those companies were also going belly-up because they suddenly were too big after their .COM clients were gone.
        • So to sum up, everyone who did well because of the internet bubble is having problems now. Quite a few of those companies were also going belly-up because they suddenly were too big after their .COM clients were gone.

          Another problem is that a 2 or 3 year old Sun or Cisco is, for most applications, just as capable as one bought brand new today. Why buy new from the manufacturer when you can get almost as good for a fraction of the price from a bankruptcy sale, or on eBay? Suppliers are now competing with their own aftermarket, and even in a fast-moving field like tech, that's very difficult.
    • by wackybrit ( 321117 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @08:01AM (#4215398) Homepage Journal
      ..the answer is simple.

      Most of the money went in salaries and advertising.

      Salaries generally form a company's largest expense, other than stock, and most of these Internet companies had no stock (consultancies, design agencies, etc) or were drop shipping.

      Dot com companies were also keen on advertising, so a lot of money went into the new media magazines of the time.. but even then, the money ended up in the pockets of the writers and editors.. so, really, it all went in salaries.

      A lot of people were employed to do almost nothing during the dot com boom. This means that they added little to production, yet took a paycheck every month. That's where the money was 'wasted' and why we can see no remnant of it today.. effectively the wealth was used to buy a few years' 'free time' for a group of lazy bastards.

      Nowadays the market is not so great, but is much more realistic. People who are productive earn their money, people who aren't don't.
      • ...with the cunning linguists post above.

        But I think the .com boom was characterized by extremes. I guess it was part of the 'irrational exuberance'.

        Salaries were very high, but the thing that amazed me was that I knew of cases where people were joining .coms and trading their salaries to get a sweaty wad of options up front. Yes, they became millionaires, but only on paper. These were people in their late 20's and 30's which is supposedly the time where your salary accelerates and you are at your maximum earning potential.

        Of course, they never actually got the chance to sell those options, and have been retrenched.

        And as their previous salary was relatively low, they can't get a salary now for what they are really worth.In other words, it has also harmed their future earning potential significantly.

        Well, you role your dice, and it's probably a good story to tell, the grand-kids...

      • A lot of people were employed to do almost nothing during the dot com boom.

        How do you know?

      • A lot of people were employed to do almost nothing during the dot com boom.

        Excellent point. I can personally attest to the fact that there were some people that came in to work every day and did absolutely nothing productive the entire day. I should know; I was one of them. As long as it LOOKED like I was hard at work, I was doing a great job. Useless tasks were assigned to me, which I completed with haste (so that I could take my 1 1/2 hour lunch and surf the Net all day). I ended up being one of the last people working there, after several rounds of layoffs, simply because I made less money than most of the other people there. I think you get the idea about what the purpose of the venture was ;)
    • Easy - the same place where most money ends up when businesses fail...

      ...lawyers.

    • 1) Salaries for the .com workers
      2) State and Federal taxes on the salaries of those .com workers, plus capital gains taxes on cashed-in stock. High income, very few deductions, and heavily concentrated in high-tax states like the People's State of California: it's enough to give any tax-and-spend politician a woody.
      3) Insane property rents, because they were concentrated in high cost of living states.
      4) Advertising, marketing, lawyers.
      5) A distant fifth: gear, now largely obsolete.

      #2 and #3 persuaded me to stay in Michigan rather than head West during the boom. I figured the additional money I'd make would be confiscated by the much higher tax profile and ridiculous cost of housing.

      That and I just didn't want to move, but it looks prescient in retrospect :-).
    • SOMEONE must have gotten rich off of the dot-com craze and subsequent bust... was it hardware manufacturers who provided all of the infrastructure for the failed-from-the start companies?

      A lot of it went to Herman Miller [hermanmiller.com]. A lot more went on advertising, and on subsidizing products to undercut offline retailers. Also, a lot went on salaries, hiring people for much more than they were worth, and buying more equipment that was necessary. And a lot went to bankers arranging IPOs and M&A. It wasn't any one thing, the money just sloshed around and a lot of it got spilled. In the final analysis, it was lots of little things, a restaurant meal on expenses here, an extra web server there, a plane ticket where a conference call would have done, a bigger office for room to expand, that just kept adding up.

      Essentially, what happened was that money that would have existed in the future if money in the present was invested in productive activity, was shifted into the present and spent in non-productive ways. The reason there is a recession is because the money that should be there now (now that we are in the future) had already been spent.
  • by mikewas ( 119762 ) <wascher@gmail.cGINSBERGom minus poet> on Sunday September 08, 2002 @07:54AM (#4215380) Homepage

    Dot-commers were always a diverse group, from the founders down to the mailroom these companies tended to attract folks with a wide range of interests & capabilities. That's one of the things that I found fun about working for a startup & one of the things I found scary about working for a startup.

    Is it any surprise that these same folks have movd on to varied new vocations & avocations?

  • by sunspot42 ( 455706 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @08:23AM (#4215441)
    Oh goodie, I see Fortune included that scumbag Marc Colon-Wrecker in their list. The former head of Digital Entertainment Network, Colon-Wrecker is currently awaiting extradition from Spain for transporting a minor across state lines with the intent of engaging in sex. There's a great Flash movie [blue22.net] done in the South Park style that dramatizes the DEN story quite nicely.

    Just don't play it at work, unless you work in a porn shop.
    • That Flash movie can also be found at IFILM [ifilm.com]

    • colon wrecker? I guess we can't blame him for becoming a sodomite. sorry, I'm still drunk
  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @09:13AM (#4215614) Homepage Journal
    Just wondering, how are our own .com^H^H^Horg millionares doing? How about it, CmdrTaco|Hemos?

  • Ok, people lost money due to .coms triggering the stock market to crash. Does anyone have any stories about people actually recovering some or all of their losses? Did you reinvest the remnants?
  • Biff... now, did you put on two coats of wax like we talked about? Biff?
  • i spend my time eating macaroni-n-cheese and reading /.
  • I remember one of the founders of eLance.com was arrested about a year for some reason. Anyone has more details about it? Anyone know where he is now?
    • ...was arrested about a year...

      After reading this I got the mental image of someone standing there in cuffs, with a cop reading them their Miranda rights over and over and over again.

  • According to the Merc: [siliconvalley.com]
    Pavni Diwanji made a small fortune starting and selling a tech company for $120 million during the boom years. Then she had a child.

    Now she's going back to work -- to start a new company. But this time, she's doing it at one of the most depressing times in Silicon Valley technology start-up history.
  • The list seems to contain artist, actors, pedophiles and assorted other misplaced souls that were trying to run businesses. Classic cases of people doing something for which they had no talent. The difference was that any wild idea at the time could generate a considerable initial return but without any business savvy could not be sustained. Most of the .coms were never viable in the first place and were staffed with people who had no real talent or experience in technology areas. Additionally many if not most didn't have the academic credentials to foster a sound technological base for business.
  • A bit one sided... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @11:34AM (#4216141) Homepage Journal
    A fact: In business, there are always more failures than success (80/20 rule). The dot-bust is simply a more spectacular example of that. It seems however, this article "about millionaires" seems to want to spin the Fortune story in the favor of the failures and not the success. Bezos comes to mind even though I love to poke fun at him (not to mention his employment practices are damn shady). Despite being ventured capitaled to the hilt he is still alive and kicking. There are others too. I know bitching and moaning about the dot-bust is popular, but even it's had it's moments.
  • 8.6 Million (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    $8.6 Million


    That's how much I walked away with in the summer of 2000. I never scammed investors and we were a profitable company. When we sold out, I listened to the advice of the most successful people I knew and placed almost everything into the stock market. Now 2 years and 3 major SEC investigations later, it's all gone. Three different companies who I was too heavily invested into, all lied about their financials.


    $8.6 Million


    It can all be over in an instant.

  • by gnugnugnu ( 178215 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @12:32PM (#4216366) Homepage
    From the Archives
    http://interviews.slashdot.org/article.p l?sid=99/1 2/10/0821224&mode=nested&tid=98

    I would be very interested to know how Mr Open Source himself, Guns not Gnu's, Eric S. Raymond is doing.

    What of the paper millionares created by VA Software, formerly VA Linux, it is still parent company of Slashdot right?

    Surely Slashdot could source some insights from their parent company, or perhaps an interview from ESR himself.

    • > I would be very interested to know how Mr Open Source himself, Guns not Gnu's, Eric S. Raymond is doing.

      If you had bothered to read another fora here on /., you'd find that currently Raymond can't even give his code away.

      He reached the point most .com millionaires would consider was the bottom, but has still found a way to push ever downward. I wouldn't bother kicking him for his hubris at this point.

      Geoff
  • The chairman of the dot com I worked for died of a drug overdose after he lost $400m on paper.
  • by symbolic ( 11752 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @01:33PM (#4216577)
    I watched this with an assoiate a few months ago, and I have to say that it really changed my impression of the .com gold rush. Mainly, it left me with a sense of hope that there were actually people out there with good ideas, reasonable business models, and the potential to make some honest money. What really impressed me is that the three guys who ran the startup to its final day didn't walk away with a pile of cash - they walked away with next to NOTHING. They didn't pay themselves exorbitant salaries to "play" CEO like those in most of these startups, they invested the money building the infrastructure that, if sustainable on its own merits, would provide the means for reward down the road - at which point they'd have actually earned it

    "Then why bother?" you may ask. Well, there are a few concepts that don't seem to get much attention these days: integrity, humility, and reality. The guys that ran this company may not have walked away with money, but they despite their disagreements, they did their best. Above all, they earned my respect.

    I'd encourage those who haven't seen this to do so.
    • It was an interesting documentary.
      It was started along with the company, so they didn't originally know that most dot.coms would crash and burn.

      What struck me in this and the plethora of dot.bomb books is how naive people were about business and technology. It was like the gold rush- people expected to get rich be just showing up.
  • My favorite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Sunday September 08, 2002 @02:23PM (#4216753) Homepage Journal
    One of the few stories I folowed (because I might have done the same thing) was jwz (the creator/forker of XEmacs and one of the coders behind Netscape and the initial Mozilla release). He made his millions from Netscape, left at the right time, and looked around saying "there aren't any good clubs to go to". Suddenly things connected, and he founded (with great trials and tribulations which he details at his ) the [jwz.org] DNA Lounge [dnalounge.com].

    And since jwz is on Slashdot: Howdy, I just moved cross country to a semi reasonable distance from the Bay area - I'm planning on hitting your place fairly soon - still poking around the local area.

    --
    Evan (no references)

  • I'm looking for pictures of homes of CEOs of failed companies, for Downside [downside.com]. I'd especially like pictures of the homes of executives of any of the companies listed on Downside's Deathwatch [downside.com]. Thanks.
  • It's wrong to group all dot coms into the same bunch.. There are those dot coms that had whimsical business plans (or none at all) and never made a dime, spending too much money on sales and marketing and HR, and there are still TONS of smaller/non-public dot coms that are making $250k-$5M a year in profit that have ridden out the storm. They're perhaps smaller, but smarter, and wiser having seen how things can come and go. Not all dot coms are shitty - the internet still offers business opportunities that cannot be had in "the real world". As for dot com millionaires, perhaps those who sold sites to larger companies, - who are you to tell someone whether or not they "deserved" it? Do you get to define what "deserved" means? There will always be the haves and the have nots and the have nots will always be bitter and disgruntled at the haves, so get over it. Someone that builds a business and gets richer than you deserves it. If they make bad investment decisions and lose their money etc, you shouldn't disparage them to make yourself feel better - lots of petty, bitter people here!
  • The 7am.com story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NewtonsLaw ( 409638 ) on Sunday September 08, 2002 @08:15PM (#4218124)
    I was one of those "bright entrepreneurs" who built an online business (7am.com [7am.com])with great traffic and an even better future.

    Unlike so many of the flash-in-the-pan wondersites that no longer exist, it wasn't built on millions of dollars in VC funding and didn't have large offices filled with geeks on scooters or a carpark filled with Porsches and BMWs.

    Started in 1997, it was very much a "one-man band" for two years, during which time it grew from a good idea into one of the most widely syndicated web-based news services on the Net.

    Getting it from zero to two million hits a day by 1999 meant working 18-19 hours per day, every day for two straight years and living on the smell of an oily rag.

    Suffice to say that I recall quite vividly the day my eardrum burst while I was typing up a breaking news story. I'd gotten an inner ear infection but was too busy to go to the doctor.

    I should also point out that 7am.com didn't have the benefit of being US-based. Instead, it was located in rural New Zealand -- half a world away from its target marketplace.

    This meant that my workday started at around 11pm and finished at 6pm-7pm the next day.

    It also meant that I had to use sweat-equity and innovation to replace a large workforce and lots of capital. 7am.com was a real groundbreaker in the area of syndicated news content on the Web and to this day continues to deliver content through a network of over 200,000 websites.

    In 1999 I was approached by a group of local (NZ) "suits" who wanted to buy in and take 7am.com to the NASDAQ.

    Remember that by this time the webserver was tracking over 2 million hits per day, the syndication network was about 125,000 third-party websites in size, I had regular advertisers, and Nielsens/NetRatings had rated 7am.com as being more popular than news.bbc.co.uk, CNNfn, Playboy.com and a raft of others.

    So, at the peak of the dot-com boom, what would you pay for a site with these respectible figures?

    Unfortunately I didn't have a whole lot of other suitors banging down my door and I knew that in order to maintain or improve my position in the market I had to pour more capital into the operation -- so beggars can't be choosers. (The lack of other investors was/is a sad indictment on the state of the VC industry in New Zealand).

    I ended up accepting a figure that was (in US$ terms) just in the six-figure bracket.

    After paying back the money I'd borrowed to start up the business, some tax, and catching up on the mortgage I was left with just over $10,000 in cash.

    I was also left with 34% of the company but I was promised that that I could now slow down my own pace of work, take weekends off and maybe even enjoy a vacation.

    Most importantly to me was the promise that the investors would bring skilled business management to the enterprise.

    Now I'm the first person to put up my hand and admit that I'm not, and don't aspire to be, a great business manager. I'm an "ideas guy" and I'm also quite competent at marketing -- but crunching numbers and brokering multi-million dollar deals just doesn't spin my wheels I'm afraid.

    So here I was -- my bills were up to date, I had a few thousand in my back pocket, I had 34% of (at the time) the world's most widely syndicated web-based news service, and the future looked rosey!

    What's more, an independent valuation of the business (made in 1999/2000) suggested that it was worth at least US$40 million

    Unfortunately I soon learned that the promises of the new investors were pretty hollow and that they figured they knew the online news business better than me -- despite the fact that none of them had any experience in this field whatsoever.

    I was working harder than ever and while everyone else was partying, I had to do 36-hours straight during the millennium eve/day celebrations so as to provide the site with around-the-clock coverage. That promised vacation never eventuated either.

    I also gave up trying to provide input and direction because what had been a dynamic, exciting, innovative operation with ultra-low overheads became just another corporate monolith.

    By mid-2000 I resigned my positions as director, board-member and news director -- it was simply too frustrating.

    To cut a long story short -- I still have a 34% interest in 7am.com, the company continues to trade and remains a significant player in the syndicated news-content market -- but I've never seen another penny.

    This annoys the snot out of me because I have since had a number of
    good ideas [aardvark.co.nz] but can't afford to fund them.

    So, if anyone wants to buy my 34% of 7am.com for a song -- just drop me a line [aardvark.co.nz] and we'll talk. I've got better things to do with the money than leave it tied up in a large, slow-moving corporate beast.

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