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Burn Rate : How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet Hardcover – June 24, 1998

4.0 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 24, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684848813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684848815
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,598,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I can see why people were so scathing about it. He doesn't pull punches. He got in bed with financial types he didn't like from the start, and hated by the end. He didn't stay entirely clean himself, and he's surprisingly candid about it. At the end, he is shriven (sort of), leaves the field, walks away from a big pile of money, and returns to writing.
If you read some of the pissy and not so pissy backstory pieces that came out after his book, you're told that he abandoned his employees for his own needs (true, but after many months of pretty much shredding cash, and without any short-term or long-term hope of success). You're also told that he manufactured people, incidents, dialog. Hard to say without having been there. But I've met many people like the people Wolff describes, and I don't doubt that they would act precisely as they are acting in reaction to the book, including denying everything whether true or false.
Brill's Content ran an extremely fatuous piece back in October 1998 that moves me to profanity when I read it; it's attack journalism without balance. The piece quoted many parties' gripes with the book without confirmation except from other parties with gripes. Wolff wrote a pretty funny story about getting the pin stuck in him as Brill tried to maneuver him into the formaldehyde.
It's still unclear to me why people don't want to believe his account of events. I don't know if it's true, but my descent into the Internet maelstrom, during which I met or worked with many interesting content and ecommerce types, confirms the tenor of what he describes. I'm inclined to think that a little dramatic license and a lot of fact inform the book.
A number of reviewers (and Amazon.com customers) describe Wolff's ego as enormous. I don't see it.
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Format: Paperback
Believe it or not, not every Internet entreprenuer gets out with a successful IPO. Wolff, a true New Media pioneer, gives us a marvelous insider's view that a winner simply could not provide, and the book is such a great, insightful read, I'm glad he failed so that we can get this peek. So much more than sour grapes, Wolff burns bridges and shows all the players with their masks off, himself included.
A book like this will always receive negative reviews from types who can't trust the motives of anyone who didn't come out a winner, but these same people readily accept as gospel any puff piece that states Steve Case's visionary genius built AOL rather than the marketing side kick with the simple idea sneak into American homes and fill the sock drawers with start up disks. Not every story is pretty, not every success is the inevitable result of brilliance and elbow grease. Do not write off this work because Wolff's business didn't work out. Rather, enjoy his sadder but wiser perspective. Enjoy a glimpse of everything that happens to successes, also, but somehow never makes it into the Business Week cover story.
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By A Customer on November 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
I think I've read everything about this business--Po Bronson and Michael Lewis books most recently--and nothing anywhere compares to Burn Rate. First of all, Wolff, either fearless or crazy, doesn't suck up to anybody. Second, this is not just good writing, this is amazing; you start to read the sentences outloud they're so good all kinds of memorable lines stay with you. Third, Wolff's book is about character, the real stuff that makes people do what they do; you recognize the people here, you understand them, they're real--they aren't some model people who inhabit Silicon Valley and the Internet Industry (Lewis's book the New New Thing is all about inventing that sort of model). Burn Rate is brilliant. It makes you sweat it's so good.
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Format: Paperback
Bored with pulp novels but not ready for a serious tome? My book of the year is Michael Wolff's Burn Rate. This is a grunt's view of the early internet battles. Wolff is predatory in his language, honest in his insecurity, writes well but actually knows his stuff. You'll learn & have a belly laugh. Add it to Liar's Poker, Up the Organization & Feargal Quinn's Crowning the Customer as must-reads.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is about Wolff's short-lived foray into Internet entrepreneurship in the mid-90s. In addition to recounting his own company's fortunes, he seems to have been tuned in to just about everything that was going on with the net industry, so it's a great overview of the whole cyber-landscape too. Mainly, it's a chronicle of the moment when the Internet shifted from being a marginalized geekfest to being Big Business.
He has great chapters on Wired magazine, on AOL, on Microsoft, and on his own attempts to secure venture capital for his company. The third chapter, "The Art of the Deal," was hysterically funny and thoroughly horrifying at the same time. At first I thought, reminiscing, that I was at perfectly the right age to have taken advantage of the Internet boom, if I'd had the presence of mind. But then, as I read further, I became more and more relieved that I'd never done so.
This book was published before most of the recent upheavals in the Internet world: The ascendancy and hegemony of IE in the browser wars (after Netscape effectively abdicated); AOL's ill-fated acquisition of Time Warner; and, of course, the "dot-bomb" to which many of us owe our current unemployed status. The book, therefore, lacks the scope and perspective of a historical document, but is very much a "view from the trenches" look at the way it seemed to a smart and thoughtful (and literary) guy who was there.
One of my primary reactions was of nostalgia. Ah, remember when AOL was Mac-only? Not only that, but it was only one of several available online communities: Delphi, Prodigy, CompuServe, Sierra... Remember when it seemed like there were only five of us who knew that AOL and the Internet were not the same thing? Remember when there was no Web? Remember when there was no Amazon.com?
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