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High Stakes, No Prisoners : A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars Hardcover – October 13, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If you've ever gone out to lunch with a coworker and suddenly found yourself witness to a savage stream of unflattering assessments of bosses, wicked gossip, and the-emperor-has-no-clothes analysis of your industry, you'll know what it's like to read High Stakes, No Prisoners. Ferguson, an MIT Ph.D., started up a company called Vermeer Technologies in 1994, a rough time for startups in Silicon Valley. The country was coming out of a recession, the stock market was stagnant, and the Internet wasn't yet taken seriously by those with money to invest. Vermeer had a software program called FrontPage that only someone who understood the coming power of the Net could appreciate. Even in Silicon Valley, few were so prescient.

Most of High Stakes is the story of Vermeer, from its startup to its sale to Microsoft. (Now bundled with Microsoft Office, FrontPage is used by more than 3 million people worldwide.) Along the way, Ferguson met the players in the Valley and formed strong opinions of them. He describes Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale as an egomaniac and technological dolt in way, way over his head. Oracle founder Larry Ellison is "severely warped." One of his best lines sums up Silicon Valley as a place where "one finds little evidence that the meek shall inherit the earth."

But this isn't just the technological equivalent of WWF trash-talking. Ferguson is very tough on himself, too, and details his own shortcomings as a person and a businessman. Mostly, it's a gloves-off account of how things really get done in high technology today, as refreshingly honest and acerbic an account as you'll ever read. --Lou Schuler

From Publishers Weekly

All the characters readers would expect to find in a "behind the scenes" look at what it's like to build and then sell one of the first Internet-related companies are present and fully accounted for in this first-hand account, written by a coauthor of Computer Wars. We see the venture capitalists who are out to maximize their return on investment in the fledgling company at the entrepreneur's expense, the voracious large competitors who threaten to crush it like a bug and the stumbling support professionalsAeveryone from lawyers to headhuntersAwho often turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help. Ferguson tells what it was like to create Vermeer Technologies, which produced one of the first software products that made creating Web pages fairly easy, and then sell it to Microsoft for $133 million some 20 months later. While the account is richly detailed, Ferguson's tone is smug and his attitude toward a great many of the people he describes travels the short arc between patronizing and dismissive. The story of Vermeer's creation is bracketed by an overview of the high-tech industry, clearly showing that Ferguson has an interesting view of the issuesAboth great and smallAraised by the remarkable growth of the Internet. It's a shame that he didn't give us more perspectiveAand less invectiveAon the travails associated with building his company. (Nov.) FYI: The author will donate his earnings from this book to a nonprofit educational organization.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; Stated 1st Edition edition (October 18, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812931432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931433
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #965,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Keith Dawson on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Read the jacket copy of most any tell-all business book and you'll see the publisher claim that the author pulls no punches. Charles Ferguson is the real deal. You've probably never read a book that so plainly lays out the author's opinions, feelings, failures, and triumphs while recounting a company's history.
Ferguson founded Vermeer Technologies, which developed the FrontPage Web authoring / editing environment in 1994 and 1995 and was acquired by Microsoft early in 1996. Microsoft FrontPage is now used by 3 million people around the world.
The eight chapters in which Ferguson describes the 22 months of Vermeer's independent existence are riveting reading for anyone who lived through the birth of the commercial Internet. Ferguson gives his startlingly frank opinions on everyone involved: Vermeer's venture capitalists, the near-disaster of a CEO they hired, the Netscape and Microsoft players with whom Ferguson negotiated for Vermeer's purchase. He's a hard grader and as tough on himself as on others. I think that none of the things he says quite rises to the level of the libelous; but some of them will make you wonder.
Everyone with an Internet business plan should read this first-time entrepreneur's look back, especially for its eye-opening account of his dealings with venture capitalists. Read it before you get your money. The book will probably depress you; but Ferguson's hard-won lessons might just possibly save your bacon.
I found the early part of the book somewhat confusing because Ferguson talks about the business and venture-capital climate in Silicon Valley. Vermeer was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts and its first investors were easterners.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm currently involved in launching an Internet company right here in Des Moines, Iowa. One of the people we asked to sit on our board of directors said, "Read High Stakes, No Prisoners and then ask me." Whether he chooses to accept the board position or not, that was some of the most relevant business advice we've received. There are many parallels between what Charles Ferguson went through at the beginning of Vermeer and what our team is experiencing now.
High Stakes points out any number of potential traps that start up companies can fall into from the development of concept to the actual product launch. Ferguson analyses what Vermeer did do and suggests how different and sometimes better outcomes would have been achieved if he and his team would have looked at issues from other angles.
The book clearly spells out what to look for and what to avoid in areas like finding the right legal counsel, negotiating with venture capitalists and hiring executives. Sections covering these topics will be invaluable to anyone launching a company.
Ferguson also offers some brilliant insight into the Microsoft/Netscape browser war. He clearly points out where Netscape stumbled and how Microsoft capitalized on Netscapes' for gone opportunities.
I could have done without the last three chapters of the book covering Ferguson's opinions of the Microsoft antitrust case and the future of the Internet. He could have stopped at the point where Vermeer was acquired by Microsoft. However, the first 8 chapters of the book should be required reading for anyone seeking to launch an Internet company.
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Format: Hardcover
Yes, Charles is brilliant, arrogant and is lightening-fast in seeing the failings of others and himself and is willing to take ownership of them (rectifying the situation and doing something about it is another story completely...). However, he also has a massive inferiority-complex when up against anyone with more brains, more money, more privilege or more power than himself hence his complete disdain for anything Microsoft-related (never mind that it was the hand that fed him and he continues to bite it). He also fails to see that you can attract a lot more bees with honey instead of vinegar. It's not a coincidence that everyone from Vermeer, except Charles eventually landed a job at Microsoft, I suspect Gates was smart enough to see just how insanely jealous Charles must be of him. As for his acidic portrayal of many of the players in the book, I'm fairly sure Charles really reserves his most toxic rage and disdain for those persons who display A) either negative qualities he has and sees a lot of himself in and wished he did not have (i.e career opportunism, uppity-ness) or B) positive qualities he wished he had but is too nasty to ever take time out to acquire and attract (i.e Gates with his greater reserves of intelligence, power and wealth). Gates also has a quality and understanding that Charles doesn't: that life isn't just about accumulating stuff, but about the quality and integrity of the relationships around you. Gates is no innocent either but at least I've never heard any stories about him running around on his wife and kids and the people he surrounds himself with have been with him for years.Read more ›
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