Michael Wolff, the author of NetGuide, one of the first major guides to the Net, gives you a tour of this medium that could best be described as "Alice's Adventures Through the Monitor." Burn Rate is the story of Wolff's transition from journalist to entrepreneur in the Internet business--a business in which the investment elite beat down doors to invest vast sums of money in companies whose chief product seemed to be red ink. Wolff reports that what was being bought and sold was not technology, content, or even concepts. It was the potential to be in on something very cool that may one day be sold to somebody else--despite even more red ink.
Wolff's story could easily have been bitter but is instead both fascinating and hilarious. Wolff's money-losing company's negotiations with Magellan--a search-engine company that Wolff eventually discovers is also financially unstable--are comical. The scene where key big shots from a major publisher fall all over Wolff in their eagerness to buy an all-but-worthless name and database are a complete farce. Wolff is by no means above showing his own foibles. Some of the book's best parts are where he shows himself swept up in the intoxicating flow of a deal and calls home to report developments to his wife. She promptly translates the nonsense into sobering reality.
Wolff takes plenty of time off from his personal journey to explore significant events in the development of cyberculture, such as the transition of Louis Rosetto from a least-likely-to-succeed publisher into the creator of the revolutionary Wired magazine. He chronicles the emergence of America Online from dark horse to dominance, while the efforts of companies expected to be major contenders fade into the background.
His candid view shows it all--the oddball characters in expensive shirts and T-shirts, the crazy dealing, the exhilaration, the heartbreak, and the fear. This would be a wonderful work of satirical fiction if it weren't actually true. --Elizabeth Lewis
From Publishers Weekly
After operating a small media company for a number of years in New York City, the author joined the ranks of Internet entrepreneurs in 1994 when he formed Wolff New Media and found himself operating in an industry with few rules, much venture capital money and lots of companies losing that money at a rapid rate. Wolff's own burn rate (the rate at which his company was losing money) was several hundred thousand dollars per month. In an effort to keep afloat, he and his financial backers met with numerous companies about a variety of business combinations ranging from an outright acquisition of Wolff New Media to a partnership arrangement. Wolff failed to reach agreements with such companies as the Washington Post, Ameritech, Magellan and America Online. He describes his negotiations with these firms in a witty fashion that provides readers a glimpse of the operating style of some of America's best-known companies. Wolff's most entertaining account concerns his dealings with AOL, which he calls the most dysfunctional company in the country. Although Wolff (Where We Stand) was an early believer in the ability of the Internet to deliver powerful content to a mass audience, by the time he resigned from his own company in 1997, he had come to see the Net as more of a transactional medium. Combining humor with his firsthand experiences, Wolff has produced a book that fledgling Internet entrepreneurs would be wise to read.
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Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.