F’d Companies : Spectacular Dot Com Flameouts (2002) by Phillip J Kaplan that lists company after company that raised money, burned money and went out of business. Kaplan, aka Pud, created the site F’dCompany that was a really fun site that catalogued the collapse of many dot com companies. I saw him speak in DC not long after the book had been released and he was also an entertaining speaker. I think I read the book around then as well.
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.