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F'd Companies: Spectacular Dot-Com Flameouts    by Philip J. Kaplan order for
F'd Companies
by Philip J. Kaplan
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

From the creator of a website we'll call comes this very funny look at a host of dot-coms that came and went. Here are (pet supplies over the 'net), (something to help you identify the titles of songs you heard on the radio), (bath & beauty products), (groceries - yes, groceries), and a hundred or so other failed Internet companies.

Some of this is just mind-boggling. How, for instance, could anyone invest in a company that set up Internet sites where parents and teachers could, I guess, find out stuff like class schedules and homework assignments? ('Yeah,' Kaplan writes, 'loads of money to be made there.') Yet - you read that right: three W's, three R's, what a brilliant name - got investors to pony up $15 million bucks, if you can believe it. As Kaplan says, 'when I was a kid, we had a piece of paper taped to the refrigerator that seemed to work just fine.' The company had 120 employees, and went belly-up in January 2001 after it couldn't raise the $30 million it needed to stay alive.

Here's another:, an online movie-rental company. Rent your movie over the Internet, Kozmo delivers it to your door. How much money did the company go through before it went bust? Two hundred and fifty million dollars. (One of its investors was, the subject of Mike Daisey's Dog Years, which you can find reviewed elsewhere on this site.)

Okay, what the heck, one more:, one of about a zillion online retailers. Idea was: you'd visit the site, find a product you wanted, tell Mercata how much you'd like to spend for it. A bunch of people who wanted the same product would band together and buy in bulk, thus getting quality goods at reduced prices. The company died early in 2000, putting 100 people out of work. had blown eighty-nine million buckeroos.

F'd Companies isn't a terribly elaborate book; basically it's just a series of brief descriptions of companies that didn't make it. Kaplan's narrative style is aggressive, almost (in places) abusive: he likes to use the F-word a lot, and other not-nice words. But he's refreshingly straightforward, too: he isn't worried about offending the people he writes about (he calls one company, a website where you could trade used music CDs, 'a fiercely stupid idea,' and it sure sound like he's right).

The thing is: Kaplan's not writing about noble failures, or good ideas that just couldn't find an audience. For the most part, he's writing about dumb ideas that couldn't possibly work. This isn't one of those isn't-hindsight-wonderful situations; the way he tells it, anybody with half a brain cell should have been able to tell, well in advance, that these online companies were doomed. Because, let's be honest, most of them were just plain ludicrous to begin with.

I had a great time with this book. I laughed, I marvelled at the gullibility and stupidity of the people who started these guaranteed failures, I told other people about this marvellous, wholly hysterical book. And now I'm telling you.

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