At the peak of the dot-com bubble, circa 1999, investment dollars were flying in to unproven companies faster than you could say Pets.com – poster child for everything that didn’t work. Talk about an unsustainable business plan: losing money on every transaction; selling items for one-third cost. As typically happens when ‘irrational exuberance’ takes over (see: Holland – ‘tulip mania’, 1637), the inevitable crash occurred. Just two years after debuting, the company with the sock monkey Super Bowl ad was gone.
Boo.com, Books-a-Million, e.Toys.com, The Learning Company and InfoSpace are a few of the many whose stock price soared to the stratosphere only to burn up. However, those who went down in flames of bankruptcy did the rest of us some big favors.
Two decades ago Internet speeds staggered along with slow dial-ups. Most people hadn’t purchased anything online. We looked up phone numbers and addresses in the Yellow Pages and kept maps in our glove compartments. Today the world is at your fingertips and finding anything – from airfares to zoo tickets – is a click away.
Grocery stores in our area are now offering curb service. Shop online. Hop in your car. Park in specially marked spaces… and an employee brings your bags right to you. (Webvan tried that starting in 1996… burned through $800 million and was gone five years later.)
Perhaps this is truly a what-goes-around-comes-around situation – and all those early pioneers were ahead of their time… like Charles Babbage’s ‘difference engine’ that preceded the personal computer by, oh, about 150 years, or the man who invented an electric car… in 1891.
William Morrison didn’t capitalize on his idea; however, Elon Musk seems to be doing quite well with the 21st century version. Tesla is worth more than Ford or GM. Anyone out there starting to pick up a faint scent of tulips wafting through the morning breeze?