These days, if it isn't a dot-com venture, it's no adventure at all. But in early 1996, when Tom Ashbrook jumped from the world of ink and paper to that of computer screen and mouse, Internet start-ups were largely the domain of computer geeks and 18-year-old whiz kids--not exactly the most obvious place for a journalist with a family to support. But with big dreams and a midcareer itch, Ashbrook took The Leap. The result is a look back at those adrenalin-pumped years that's filled with honesty, humor, and a healthy dose of introspection.
Neither a geek nor a whiz kid, Ashbrook was an award-winning writer for the The Boston Globe, where he had worked for 15 years. Shortly after winning a coveted one-year sabbatical in Harvard's Neiman Fellowship program, Ashbrook began talking Net dreams with an old college friend, Rolly Rouse. Their vision was to launch a Web site that would present home-design information and images and enable users to create online idea portfolios and buy quality products for their dream homes. Ashbrook soon quit his job and plunged into the project full time, endlessly revising business plans, tapping anyone and everyone for advice, courting venture capitalists, hoarding free credit cards for backup "security", and forever trying to convince a sane and worried wife that he wasn't zooming headlong over a cliff. As a case study of HomePortfolio.com, it's a story of manic speed and energy. As the story of one man's midlife adventure, it's a tale of trepidation, fear, ambition, love, and wonderment.
Ashbrook writes with eloquence. His descriptions are imaginative, juicy, and always dead-on. For example, Harvard Business School "was a gleaming, vitamin-enriched, brick and marble and white-trimmed monument to economic steroids," and its old buildings "always looked next-to-new, like rich, pampered matrons on full-dose nip-and-tuck regimens of estrogen and plastic surgery." And he remembers the Myers-Briggs personality test "smelled a little like horoscopes for eggheads to me, with its big gumbo of letters and pat descriptions." Occasionally, Ashbrook's tendency to spice up his descriptions gets a bit much as he throws in too many metaphors; it's as if his brain is on hyperlink overdrive. Overall, though, his graceful prose flows with alacrity, and the pace is infectious. Forget the quiet comfort of your favorite reading chair; you'll be stomping down the sidelines, hoarsely shouting, "Yes, yes, you're almost there, go, one more push!" For that's what this is, a breathless tale of giving birth, an exhausting, exhilarating play-by-play of sweaty labor and life-changing success. Beware... it'll give you the itch. --S. Ketchum
From Publishers Weekly
In 1996, after 12 years as an international reporter and top editor at the Boston Globe, Ashbrook reconnected with his old college roommate, Rolly Rouse, to begin a quixotic project: a CD-ROM architectural pattern book that would allow baby boomers to design their own homes. While at Harvard on a Nieman Fellowship that allowed him to explore his interests, Ashbrook used his newfound free time to work on the project and later decided to make the "leap from security to risk" and devote himself to it fully, despite the economic uncertainty for his family (including three kids) and his wife's recurring doubts. He and Rouse raised some money from family and friends, recruited a few staffers, vaulted into a new world of venture capitalists and partnership disputes and morphed into an Internet company, HomePortfolio.com. Momentum and tension build as the partners scramble for connections, run out of money and Ashbrook's marriage frays. Ultimately, credit cards, fortuitous funding and a dash of New York Times publicity save the day: Ashbrook's too-short epilogue tells us that HomePortfolio.com grew enormously. Though his company is more impressive as an entrepreneurial effort than as a revolutionary creation, Ashbrook's leap wasn't really about money. As he told his wife, it was "about wanting to feel really, really alive." His book may not range as broadly (or offer as much dish) as Michael Wolff's Burn Rate, but it certainly captures the manic energy of midlife Internet dreams. Author tour. (May)
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