While its name may be unprintable in most American publications, the website FuckedCompany.
At the core of the site is a game---a variation on celebrity "deadpool" in which players predict the demise of well known public figures. Morbid it may be, but deadpool reflects a combination of envy and come-uppance that is a part of human nature: "You may have been rich and famous, but I outlived you!" The same sort of common man triumph underlies FuckedCompany's site, where players predict the "death" or near death of e-commerce companies.
The site's rules are straightforward. Contestents, who play for free, select up to five companies each week. Each company exists in some stage of health, from seemingly robust to ailing. A candidate company might appear to be roaring along, but in fact be on the verge of acquisition. Or it may have declared bankruptcy, or, like Reel.
Kaplan's game thrives on signs of impending doom---which the website bluntly calls "fucks." The site awards looks for these signs and awards each a point value of 1-100 depending on its severitity: a minor layoff scores less than an a mass firing, a departing president outscores a departing chief financial officer, a rumored bankruptsy scores less than the real thing. The full 100 point award is reserved for a complete bust, in which a dot com head the way of the Titanic.
In addition to this severity rating, the game also rewards players who identify failures everyone else overlooked. For example, if a company that goes bust is picked by 10 percent of all players, each player gets 100 points for the severity---plus another 90 for being among the 10 percent to make the call. Companies that reach a severity factor of 100 are retired to a hall of fame.
The game also awards a 25 point bonus for picking a heretofore unblemished company that eventually expires. The website lists the top 100 players by screen name, as well as a list of recent rumors. At this writing, for example, rumored management layoffs at Wine.
The site also includes a discussion board that is not for the sensitive. Topics have included: "I hate it when people bring kids to work," "Which dot.
For dot-com workers who jumped ship from larger companies, DotcomFailures features a "Lackey Calculator" that factors in hours per week, salary, the pay cut taken to join and the number of stock options. According to the calculator, a worker who puts in 65 hours a week, makes $80,000 a year, took a 25 percent cut, and has 5000 shares is losing $20,000 a year and locate find a job recruiter.
[Upside magazine's] UpsideToday.
[Failure Magazine] and its failuremag.
Why a death watch?
Despite all the attention paid to dot-com failures, nobody should be surprised that some e-commerce sites are dying. The failure rate among all new businesses is high, and always will be. Many entrepreneurs play the game, comparatively few succeed. Mary Modahl, vice president of research at Forrester Research, has predicted that more than half the dot-coms now in business will eventually sink. Indeed, the high-risk, high-reward nature of high-tech entrepreuneurship opened the door for a new breed of financial investers---venture capitalists---who were more willing to take risks than traditional bankers, the usual source for business loans.
The e-business consulting firm Deloitte & Touche has a similar take. The firm lickened today's business climate for dot.
So if dot-coms failure is expected, why are so many people fixated and fascinated by their demise? In part, the answer is plunging stock performance in a market that seemed to defy gravity. Since the beginning of the year, some dot-com stocks have leveled off, others have declined precipitousely, losing even half their value. Stocks will go up and stocks will go down, but in the case of e-commerce, this percipitous slide has been the first injection of reality in a loopy market, one that has confounded economists and value investors looking for old-fashion profits. Conventional wisdom has it that stock performance correlates with earings---the more money a company makes, the higher its stock price should climb.
But in the dot com space, investors have assumed that marketshare comes first and profits will follow. That explains why Amazon.
The stampede of investors eager to put money into the e-commerce sector has had a big impact especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and more broadly on the West Coast, where many "new economy" companies are clustered. Investment dollars, more than profits, have created a stereotype: the dot-com multimillionaire entrepreneur who, despite not reaching the age of 35, can pay exhorbitant amounts of real estate at a rate not seen in this country since the wave of Japanese investments in the 1980s. People shopping for houses tell stories of modest two-bedroom homes in the flatlands of Palo Alto (home of Stanford University) selling for more than a million dollars, a sum that in other parts of the country would buy you an estate.
According to a California form that tracks estate, te number of Bay Area homes that sold for $1 million or more during the second quarter rose by about 71 percent. In San Francisco, a million dollars will buy you a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home in with about 2,000 square feet of floorspace. By American standards, that's a middle-class house selling so far out of the reach of ordinary Americans that most kids growing up in San Franciscan kids will themselves have to look elsewhere to live. Home prices in San Francisco have grown so high that most residents gainfully employed as accountants or even lawyers may figure they can only afford to rent. A real estate agent I know sent one couple, a doctor and a lawyer, to a suburban tract housing neighborhood formerly occupied by working dads and stay-at-home moms. And then consider the wealthy community of Ross, which is now considering a building limitation of 10,000 feet per home.
And what of the entreprenuers' employees? Those people comprise the second economic phenomenon of dot-coms. Many of them have left secure jobs with larger technology companies to work for long hours at comparatively low wages in trade for stock options that would, if all goes well, make them millionaires overnight. This phenomenon has a name, "web slaves." It had a cheerful connotation while stock prices kept rising. Now, with the fall, the mood has soured and grown more cynical---although many would say that the economic climate has simply become more realistic, at least by those still holding onto the dream.
The tougher climate for dot-coms has impaired their ability to hire. "Gone are the days when Internet retailers could dangle 10,000 stock options, utter a few words about revolutionizing the process of buying gravel, say, and then get a prospective employee to sign on for a galley slave's salary and 16-hour days in close quarters with 24-year-olds and their Labradors," wrote Bob Tedeschi in the New York Times, referring to the practice among some technology companies to allow dogs at work. He says that with stock options sometimes falling, rather than rising to the stratosphere, applicicants are becoming more traditional in their job requirements. They want a good salary---that is, money up front---and a sense that the company will be around for a while. Skilled management and technical personnel always thought twice before jumping from an established company to a chancy startup. Now, they may not jump at all.
Tedeschi predicts that the short term, at least, "traditional companies with Internet divisions could have a substantial advantage in the recruiting wars, thereby putting additional pressure on their dot-com competitors." These hybrid companies, sometimes called "click & morter," may be the new model for Internet expansion. Presumably, they've already proved their worth in the traditional retail sector. The Internet represents an expansion of their business, rather than the whole of it.
And so, an acidic website like FuckedCompany.
With dot-coms failing, some observers now question whether the business model has been oversold. Teenagers, for example, who collectively spend millions of dollars each year, often lack the credit card needed to shop online. Besides, in America, many kids like hanging out in shopping malls, and shopping mall designers are finally awakening to that fact.
As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, a Macy's department store here recently revamped its junior department. "Now pipes and cables hang from an exposed ceiling and aisles zigzag diagonally across the space. Music emanating from a deejay booth blares at twice the level of other departments. (Speakers lodged in the ceiling are aimed toward the center of the juniors area, to avoid jarring older patrons.) And sales clerks with red- or blue-streaked hair and multiple body piercings don tight black leather pants, in sharp contrast to the more conservative-looking clerks in the rest of the store." The result: sales have jumped 19 percent.
As for the rest of us, e-commerce is undeniably convenient. But it's also impersonal and requires that we trust merchants we never heard of to take our money and deliver the. Moreover, you can't touch the merchandice and returns are more difficult to make. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once asked his readers to imagine a world that was entirely based on e-commerce. Then, one day, somebody invents a retail store where you can go in person and see what you are actually buying. Imagine that! Viewed from that context, he suggests, bold economy brick-and-mortar retailing would seem like a revolution that could change the way that people purchase goods---the point being that brick-and-mortar companies are not likely to be fully subsumed by the Internet sites. In hindsight, if e-commerce's impact is minor rather than earthshaking, then the e-commerce investors 1990s will be seen as a bunch of optimistic lunatics who soon got their comeuppance.
Grow or Die: Amazon.
com Thinks Big
No stock is considered a better bellweather of dot-com performance than Amazon.
One apparent victim of Amazon's success is Reel.
Amazon seems to be suceeding at its core businesses: its book, CD and DVD divisions will be profitable this year. The bigger question is whether consumers will order other merchandise from Amazon or migrate to a more specialized company. Amazon's challenge is to persuade its customers that it is not just a book dealer, but the consummate electronic retailor.
Personally, I hope Amazon succeeds. In researching this story, I noticed that Amazon carried Pocket PC (Windows CE) palmtops. The selection was wide, the website organization informative and and easy to navigate. Focusing in on a Compaq monochrome model, I read some thougtful customer reviews, and one from Amazon itself. In fact, all the virtues that make Amazon a great place to shop for books seemed to be present here. My credit card was already online. Amazon already knew my address. I knew from experience I could count on fast, reliable delivery. (The package arrived in three days.) I clicked the "buy it" button, and Amazon took one more micron-sized step toward profitability.
Customer List Fire Sale
When a dot-com dies, one of its few remaining assets may be its customer list. That fact is behind a controversial move by some bankrupt compaines to sell their lists to other websites as a way of paying for their debts. The problem is that in many cases, customers assumed that their personal information would not venture beyond the website. If you do business with clothier Boo.
TRUSTe has called the planned selling of customer names by bankrupt dot-coms "ethically wrong." In the case of Toysmart.