The importance of good timing

What if spectacular dotcom failures weren’t terrible ideas, but just happened to pick the wrong moment?

by Robert Jeffery

In the autumn of 1999, there was an almost palpable tingle in the air in the smarter parts of London. It wasn’t just the impending, existentially discomfiting millennium, though that added to the febrile mix. Mostly, it was cold, hard investment capital being poured directly into the hands of eager and impressionable young people.

The most impressionable were the founders of boo.com, a pair of Scandinavian socialite twentysomethings with a simple dream – to flog bulk designer clothing to similarly cash-rich urbanites. Boo.com came to symbolise everything that was excessive about the dotcom boom: erudite executives, blanket marketing and a business model that hoovered up cash ($135m by the time it imploded a year later).

On the evening it launched, as BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones recounted in his book Dot.Bomb, a senior staffer tried to load the site’s homepage at home. It took eight minutes as her bog-standard model churned through the reams of animation. A customer (of whom there were few) complained of waiting 81 minutes to complete a transaction. Founder Ernst Malstem would later further endear himself to former employees by complaining he too had suffered as the business’s cash dried up by having to cross the Atlantic on Concorde rather than private jet.

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