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F'd Companies: Spectacular Dot-com Flameouts Hardcover – April 2, 2002
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The graveyard of dot-com disasters is overflowing with grandiose ideas gone spectacularly bad, and Philip J. Kaplan's F'd Companies offers an unapologetically acerbic opinion on dozens of the most outrageous. Kaplan, a programmer turned consultant whose own online dreams began when he launched a bulletin board system for pirated game software back in 1989, pulls no punches as he bluntly dissects Web failures that remain dazzling for their pretentious plans and audacious executions. There are big names like Webvan ("a classic example of PAYING more for products than they were SELLING them for") and Go.com (a "portal to nowhere"), but most here are less well known despite similarly burning through cash like a cyber-brushfire. In language far more explicit than his softened-for-the-bookstore title, Kaplan skewers the likes of Iam.com (which lost $48 million trying to convince models and actors to post their portfolios on the Net), OnlineChoice.com (which spent $20 million to learn consumers weren't interested in group buys of electricity and other utilities), HeavenlyDoor.com (which sunk $26 million into a site peddling caskets and burial plots), and Eppraisals.com (which dropped $15 million on an effort to sell online evaluations of antiques). The result is consistently profane, frequently hilarious, and usually right on target. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
"I'm a computer programmer," Kaplan writes. "I'm that dude at your office in the dark cubicle who nobody listens or pays attention to (especially the hotties in marketing)." Kaplan's claim to fame is FuckedCompany.com, a Web site he built over Memorial Day weekend in 2000 to serve as a forum for bad news about Internet companies. His timing a few months after the Internet bubble began to deflate was perfect, and FuckedCompany became an immediate hit. Thousands of fired or about-to-be-fired dot-commers were more than willing to share their horror stories about the collapse of one Internet company after another. He has translated the material posted on the site into a book, offering brief vignettes of the demise of more than 150 Internet ventures. His basic formula includes a description of what the company purported to do (Mercata.com "customers would use the site to band together and purchase merchandise at wholesale prices"), how much money it blew through before going bankrupt and how many people were fired ("$89 million and 100 employees were burned"). Kaplan, 25, attempts to enliven each story with humor, which is often more crude than clever. That many of the stories sound the same is not Kaplan's fault, as most really are: someone comes up with an idea, finds a venture capitalist willing to pour funding into the company despite the flimsiest of business plans, and then goes broke when the money dries up. Although he tries, Kaplan delivers little more than an elegy for the Industry Standard, Pets.com, Contentville.com, Flooz.com, Bid.com and Kozmo.com, not to mention Zing.com, ProcessTree.com and MetalSpectrum.com.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Second, this book is a quick and easy read, perfect for commuters or those who enjoy reading during television commercials. Segments of the book, concerning a particular company, tend to be no longer than a few paragraphs each.
Finally, this book does contain vast amounts of toilet humor, but again, any regular visitor to the website would expect nothing less from Pud, the author. Taken with a grain of salt, F'd Companies makes a nice afternoon appetizer.
While this isn't necessarily a history of the crash, the book is organized into theme sections. These sections point out broad trends in the dot.com industry and help create a picture of why so many failed. Kaplan's expertise as a guide in this murky, sometimes corrupt world of dot.coms is helpful, and is done in a way in which the lay reader can actually understand how these dot.coms actually worked.
This book doesn't take the internet or the digital world too seriously, and, above all, Kaplan has a self-deprecating manner of story telling that is charming. For awhile. At times, the reader is left to wonder whether or not he is telling you about these ridiculous companies to make a point, or just to make fun. He is a bright guy, and very, very funny. However, sometimes his R-rated commentary detracted from his really commendable insight into why these companies flamed and why such high hopes were pinned on them. It seems to me that the editor (or publisher) could have shown a little more restraint and had a much cleaner, tighter book.
However, even at its worst, this book is still highly enjoyable and entertaining. No one interested in the dot.com bust of the late 1990s should be without this book. Besides, maybe this review is just the vitriolic rambling of some ... (a Kaplan original) that still is bitter because I have some Flooz that I could never use.
As an aside, if you're an FC junkie / refugee with a real story to tell, startupfailures.com and the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business are building a slightly cleaned up archive of failed companies to save for posterity. Check it out.
The book is of some historical interest because it looks at failure, which is something that isn’t often looked at. There are dozens of books about Apple, Google, Microsoft, Ebay, Amazon and co but few books look at the many, many failures that looked almost as likely at one point. The book is also funny, at least for a while, but the sort of thing that makes a funny blog post (which this book actually predates really – blogs took off after) isn’t what makes a funny book. It gets a bit tiring. But there are still some laughs. For anyone who was around at the time it will bring back some memories.
But reading the book in 2016 makes you realise that a number of the ideas were just before their time. On demand internet video, now known as Youtube, is there. Also a company called ‘myspace’ in their first incarnation as an online storage site. There are also other online storage sites like Dropbox that went insolvent. Hosting companies are also numerous. Also mocked is six-degrees, which was about the first social networking site, long before Facebook. Also mocked are various sites for making internet sites mobile friendly, admittedly over WAP which never took off. Still, an idea before it’s time that doesn’t make any money is a bad idea. It’s also worth noting how many failed companies Amazon was involved in.
If you’d been really smart and looked at the book in 2002 and thought about how increasing broadband and internet adoption was coming and what would work once there was three or four times as many people on the internet as there was in 2000 you could also have founded Youtube or Facebook. Who knows, perhaps some of these companies were founded by people who’d read the book and thought about what would work in the future. This is overly simplistic, there is a lot of skill in making things like that scale but it does show that ideas that do eventually work have often failed before.
There’s something in this book for people who remember the first dot-com boom and people who listen to ‘The Internet History Podcast’ but want to remember some of the many companies who didn’t make it. They style is pretty terrible but the content is there. It’s also worth noting that Pud went on to found some successful companies, so the book isn’t about total disillusionment with the internet, it just shows that there money was too easy to come by and ideas that were half baked got funded like never before and never since.