Finishing last in the race for dot-com riches

Could there be a worse time than now to publish a book revealing the secrets of Internet start-up success?

Published January 11, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

For the past few months, even its biggest boosters have been forced to admit that the Internet gold rush was, for all its many virtues, a colossal scam. The dot-com racket operated on the tried-and-true greater-fool theory: As long as there was a greater fool waiting to pay even more for your stock than you did, the moola would keep rolling in. Well, there may be a sucker born every minute, but during the heyday of the Internet humbug there was a moronic dot-com born every second; and as a result of this numerical imbalance, the supply of greater fools suddenly dried up, leaving millions of speculators in and its ilk broke, bummed and too humiliated to even complain.

Which is why one Jonathan Aspatore, hapless author (with Alicia Abell) of the just-published "Digital Rush: Nine Internet Start-ups in the Race for Dot-Com Riches," has provided such a valuable, cathartic public service. For Aspatore's humiliation, unlike yours and mine (actually, mine is pretty public, since I work for a dot-com), is public. Only your caustic, sneering mate knows about the 1,000 shares of you bought last year at $45 a share and sold yesterday at $.34, but Aspatore will forever be known as the author of a book titled "Digital Rush: Nine Internet Start-ups in the Race for Dot-Com Riches" that was published in 2001.

My schadenfreudian slip may be showing, but I find this strangely comforting.

Published by Amacom, a company whose printing presses apparently do not come equipped with a "Stop" button, "Digital Rush" is a cheerful, boosterish book filled with advice you can take to the bank -- where, if you have been paying close attention, you will withdraw all of your money and give it to an old woman in exchange for a handful of magic beans. "The time to be part of an online venture is now," the mummified-sounding voice of Aspatore brightly exclaims on the very first page. Why? "There has never been a better time to raise money from financing sources such as venture capitalists."

Actually, there have been better times than now to raise v.c. money for dot-com start-ups -- during the crusades, for instance, or during those torrid years when dinosaurs walked the earth. But before quibblers can voice such objections, Aspatore moves on, revealing for those who run to read why dot-com stock options will help you take up permanent residence on a Caribbean beach. Stock in traditional companies, he helpfully explains, "is unlikely to be as active as that of an Internet company's stock."

Ah, "active" -- such a flexibleword. And as you roll your wheelbarrow filled with Articles of Confederation-value stock options to the store to buy a candy bar, you will have ample time to ponder its many and varied definitions.

But the book's truly defining moment occurs at the end of a gushing profile of a luxury-goods-purveying dot-com start-up rejoicing in the name After many chirpy pages extolling's dynamic business plan, filled with inspiring facts like "The team spent six months coming up with their name" and descriptions of the "water-trickling, Zen-like, mind-calming fountain" featured in the company's offbeat, creativity-inspiring "Living Room," the following italicized postscript appears:

As of publication of this book, questions have arisen regarding the state of and where they are heading, and the company's officials have been unavailable, so far, for comment on these issues.

If this strangely evasive coda inspires in you a fleeting suspicion that might have rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, you would be right. Perhaps calmed excessively by its Zen-like fountain, rests in peace. It has taken up eternal residence in that place where the words "No Web site is configured at this address" appear when you type in the URL. It is an ex-Foofoo.


Coming soon: "The Charge of the Light Brigade: How Units in the Rear Still Have Time to Play a Decisive Role if They Hurry."

By Gary Kamiya

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

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