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Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet Paperback – June 15, 1999
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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? Remember Micropayments? Remember Push? Ah, them was the days.
Most of all, Wolff does a pretty good job of stopping every now and then to take stock, to wonder philosophically what it's all about: Is the Internet media, or just a big telephone? He doesn't figure out the answer, of course, but that's not what philosophy is about. Taking the long view, I think it's books like this that are going to help our society, 25 or 50 or 100 years down the line, figure out what the Internet boom/bust, and the 90s, were about.
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. This book is a bunch of beech branches beating him in the back. He doesn't let anybody off easy - okay the Hoover's folks are nicely presented, as counter example - but he presents himself as the money hungry nut he was during those crazy days. But he walked away from a big pile of cash (as I did, somewhat around the same time, but in substantially different circumstances), and lived to tell the tale. And write a successful book about it, in much the same style and mode of interest as Jerry Kaplan's Startup.
1 - He writes clearly and well.
2 - While living in the Internet Gold Rush, he took notes on the details of conversations, instead of the meaning (or so he tells us).
So, this book is another interesting view in the ways and means of money. Smart money, dumb money, no money for tomorrow's payroll and all that.
It's not written to give glamorous insight into how the author is a brilliant visionary, sharing his ideas with you, or anything that you'd find in a typical business book. It's a detailed narrative about life in the trenches. It certainly seems true enough to me.
For that reason, it's worth reading, since most books push an agenda of their own, and this book doesn't really seem to have an agenda or something to prove. From the internal evidence, the author has tried to write a fun, compelling story that might sell, in order to make some money.
He succeeded. At least, the writing of a story worth reading. I have no idea about the money.
Most recent customer reviews
Doesn't have a sincerity.