Gore is Vice President of Praxis International, Inc.
Technical Training, Consulting, and Publishing since 1988
a Wild Ride on the Dot-com Roller Coaster
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The rules of the game for high-tech Internet companies have changed dramatically in the last two years. The stock market meltdown in March 2000 signaled the demise of many Internet companies and marked the end of Internet mania.
Venture capital stopped flowing so easily into Internet start-ups. In fact, all start-ups are having a difficult time attracting venture capital. Statistics from Venture Economics (www.ventureeconomics.com) show that total venture capital declined from approximately 85 billion dollars for the first nine months of 2000 to 31 billion dollars for the first nine months of 2001. Gone are the days when an Internet start-up can make an initial public offering within a year or two.
I relived the dot-com roller coaster a few days ago when I viewed the videocassette version of “Startup.com.” The film is a fascinating documentary of the rise and fall of govWorks, Inc. (www.govworks.com) and two of its founders, the president, twenty-something, Harvard-educated, Goldman Sachs-trained Kaleil D. Isaza Tuzman and the chief technical officer, Tuzman’s best friend, Tom Herman.
The premise of govWorks was to provide a portal for easy interaction between government agencies and citizens. The convenience of paying traffic tickets online for both government agencies and citizens was the “hook” the founders promoted in meetings with venture capitalists.
Tuzman’s natural charisma makes him the lead character of the movie. In fact, in looks and demeanor he is very similar to WWF wrestler, actor, and celebrity, “The Rock.” (In my favorite scene from the movie, Tuzman is in a meeting with President Bill Clinton and slips him a business card. Later, he boasts that he gave a recruiting pitch to the President to join govWorks following Clinton’s presidency.)
Tuzman was successful in raising sixty million dollars from venture capitalists. Of this total amount, twenty million dollars in venture capital was raised before govWorks launched its web site.
From infancy, however, govWorks was plagued with problems—personality clashes between the founders who were friends from childhood, technical problems in getting the site to work properly, and lack of innovation in keeping ahead of the competition. In addition, the film’s drama is heightened with an office break-in that the founders and employees believe is some form of corporate espionage.
The personal relationship between Tuzman and Herman deteriorates so badly that toward the end of the film, Herman is escorted from the govWorks office on Tuzman’s orders. The relationship seems irretrievably broken.
Interestingly, the credits at the end of the film reveal that the two founders went on to launch a consulting company to help other troubled and distressed companies. Their new company is the Recognition Group (www.recognitiongroup.com). The new company is a “full-service advisory firm that creates and executes viable options for under-performing technology companies.”
The biographical sketch of Tuzman on the Recognition Group’s website states that he “has become one of the most influential voices on entrepreneurship in the New Economy, particularly on the lessons learned from the recent Internet boom.” It also says that he “navigated govWorks through a re-organization proceeding in the turbulent markets of late 2000, which included a 2/3 reduction in headcount, over 75% reduction in operating costs, and ultimately, a sale of the company’s core transaction processing business to eONE Global (www.eoneglobal.com) and American Management Systems.” Tuzman’s biographical sketch concludes by announcing that he has written a book tentatively entitled, “Living the Bubble: Seven Sins of Early Entrepreneurship,” due out this spring.
In a touch of irony, there is actually a company named Startup.com, (www.startup.com). Startup.com, based in Wayland, Massachusetts, helps entrepreneurs with business formation plans and strategies to grow quickly. The founders, Eugene Pettinelli and Norton Greenfield, Ph.D., describe Startup.com as a “new kind of business accelerator…to help entrepreneurs create quality investable companies.” Startup.com was founded before the movie was made and the principals are reportedly deciding what to do, if anything, about the movie.
If govWorks, as depicted in “Startup.com,” is seen as a microcosm of the “new economy,” then the bursting of the Internet bubble and the drying up of venture capital should have come as no surprise. However, there is more to the story. The company that purchased some of govWorks assets, eONE Global, has achieved success in offering electronic payment and other services to government agencies, financial institutions and business enterprises. The idea behind govWorks has proven itself to be a workable business opportunity.
There is one last, strange twist to the story. In a scene from the film, Bryan Mundy, the CEO of EzGov (www.ezgov.com), govWorks’ major competitor, visits the offices of govWorks to check out the competition. Later, in January 2001, just at the movie was being released, Bryan Mundy and a friend perished in a fire in Mundy’s home. Despite the impact of this loss to EzGov, the firm is still in business and is prospering.
In the final analysis, “Startup.com,” the movie, proves that real life is often more bizarre, and more interesting, than fiction.
The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)
column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on
January30, 2002. Greg Gore can
be reached at gg@GregGore.com.
2008 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.