The Real Dot-Com History – Not For Sale

Some weeks back, a Webvan stock certificate sold for US$500. The sale caused a minor stir, since the stock itself was worth something like 14 cents at the time. But it also led to widespread speculation that mementos of the dot-com era would soon become valuable items.

And right on cue, a cottage industry in the stuff of dot-coms blossomed.

A recent check of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) found 41 Webvan-related items listed, including a half-dozen or so stock certificates, refrigerator magnets, chip clips and business cards. None has drawn bids anywhere near the $500 mark. In fact, most items had high bids closer to the $1 range.

There are also eToys items — including a 2000 holiday catalog — and a bunch of Kozmo curios making the rounds on Internet auction sites.

So Many Props

Some of it may yet turn out to be worth something, a few years down the road. But my guess is that the MarchFirst Frisbees and Razorfish Post-Its are just so much yard-sale fodder. Or better yet, props to help tell dot-com stories.

The real story of the dot-com boom, of course, resides in the personal tales that so many people have.

Advance warning to grandchildren born anytime after 2030: You are going to hear more stories about Internet startups than you can bear. And in those stories, startups will be faster, richer and even more free-spending than in real life, which is saying something if you think about how much was spent so quickly.

And the shakeout. Well, that will be even more dramatic, more abrupt, more outrageous than can be now imagined.

Lessons of the Fall

Ironically, there may be no need to embellish. Already the stories have been honed to perfection. I realized this fact when I attended a dot-com shindig in Boston recently. The Landsdowne Street bar was packed with laid-off Internet workers. Everyone there had a tale of excess. A war story of epic proportions to relate.

There were former Internet consultants — entry-level types who made six figures and watched as higher-ups all but threw millions of dollars directly out the window. As the story goes, the mucky-mucks then snuck out of town one weekend last spring, leaving the venture capitalists (whose money it was that went out the window) to break the bad news to workers: There was no company to work for anymore.

There were e-commerce refugees who took jobs at thinking the world could change that easily, then realizing, some sooner than others, that to think so was a bit presumptuous.

Bridges of Dot-Com Country

Theirs were lives turned upside down. People with deep roots in one place who had made two cross-country moves in a year: one voluntary and one necessary. There were red-faced admissions about bosses who had been told off but now are being called upon for networking purposes. Bridges burned on the way up being painstakingly rebuilt as part of the road back.

And the bragging. How they regret that now. One woman said she actually called a professor to brag about a six-figure job offer that she turned down, thinking she could do better, only to have the bottom drop out on her. She later grabbed an offer for just over half as much moolah. And she hasn’t told the professor yet.

These aren’t sad stories, for the most part. Everything has been put in perspective there.

But they are good stories. Full of human foibles and shortcomings. Full of the types of sharp, abrupt rises and equally stunning falls that Hollywood is so fond of. We’re waiting for the comebacks.

Rocking Chair

So keep that HomeGrocer magnet. Put that leash away. But not as an investment. Keep it so you can prove to your grandchildren that you were there when the world changed. And when it changed again.

Keep them as props. They might help keep your grandkids’ attention while you’re telling your dot-com story someday for the hundredth time.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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