The Internet Entrepreneurs
by Chris Price
ft.com pounds 13
History comes round pretty fast these days. It is a little weird reading a book that charts the development of some of the internet's business pioneers talking about 1995 as if it were ancient history. Which, of course, in terms of the digital age, it is.
The digital timeframe moves so fast it is amazing to think that web browsers are less than five years old, it is less than three years since magazines like this started covering the internet seriously, and only a bit more than a year since UK financial services companies were forcibly hit by the internet. Since that time we've been through dot.com boom and bust at least twice, with yet more gyrations bound to come.
This book is valuable in that it collects together and explores in detail the conception, gestation, birth and growing pains of the big names in digital business: Amazon, Netscape, Yahoo, iVillage, e-bay and so on.
Each company is seen from the point of view of the main person behind its invention or growth: how they saw and responded to the opportunity of a new world opening up before them, and ditched the old rules and made up new ones to cope with the massive speed, scaling and marketing issues.
Thinking about that recent past makes you wonder what the next year will hold. Will retailing be hit in the same way that banking and music are being hit? What will the next channels be? How long before the transparency that the net offers gets organised and starts to have an impact on government and business - and is either of them remotely ready?
One of the fascinating items that the book identifies is the number of internet entrepreneur/millionaires who have turned to philanthropy with their millions. In yet another echo of the industrial revolution, we see a high proportion of idealistic pioneers of the revolution going on to apply their idealism outside the strict confines of their business.
What the book does not seek to do is to draw any overall conclusions from what has happened. This left me unsatisfied. I wanted a sort of idiot's guide book to creating a powerful and influential digital business. But of course, if that were possible, everyone would be doing it.
And it is more true to the ideals of the age than that. Don't make up rules because there are no rules. Be informed by the past, but not constrained by it.