The problem with this e-commerce stuff is that you keep getting blind-sided. I was re-making myself as a new economy e-man, and I was doing pretty well. I'd stopped talking about market size and growth, and I was talking about spaces - as in 'we're in the ASP data mining space'. I did all my business plans on paper napkins. I dismissed Microsoft and Oracle as legacy technology, and I sneered at dumb legacy thinking (questions like 'when do you think you'll be profitable?'). I focused on eyeballs, network effects and revenue multiples.
I fired my secretary (sorry, Leslie) and learnt how to change the printer cartridges on my HP690. I filled in dates on AOL's reminder service so I don't forget my sister-in-law's birthday. I got my tri-band mobile last summer, and I figured out, by myself, how to use Excel for doing tables in PowerPoint. I hid my old consulting suits and Church's shoes, and went casual - not nerd short-sleeve-white-shirt-and-loafers casual, you understand, I mean SoHo black-and-grey casual. I was humming on e-time. Surfing the tsunami, I was the fragrance du jour.
Then one day it all changed. I was having my month-ly review with my incubator-accelerator VC over lunch at a Japanese conveyor-belt restaurant. Patsy was ignoring the circling plates - she was homing in on one of my best B2C community concepts, plumbers-I-hate.com.
Her: Where's the revenue stream? Who's paying for this?
Me: Don't get legacy on me, Patsy. It's a community space. We're in eyeball land-grab mode.
Her: Community is dead. B2C community is D-E-A-D dead.
Me: It's B2B.
Her: B2B is dying.
Me: It's an infrastructure play. It's like Cisco. Internet plumbing.
Her: It is not an infrastructure play. Nobody believes this bullshit any more. Where's the business plan?
I slid a paper napkin over.
Her: What the ****'s this? This is a piece of toilet paper. I can't show this to investors.
Me: Let's double-click on that. Investors just want to ride the wave. Since when did they want to see business plans? Did Boo have a business plan?
Her: And they want to see you. I can't take you to meet investors. What are you wearing? You look like a coked-up lounge lizard from the Groucho Club. Get a bloody suit and tie. Cut out all this space and eyeballs crap. I want to know how and when this concept will ever make money. Actually, I can answer that. Never. It is de-funded as of now. De-funded and defunct. P45s out by tonight. That pony-tailed idiot CTO of yours is out on the street. Next item?
It went downhill from there. One by one, my incubator's sproglings were de-funded and defunct. I was sobbing into my green tea ice-cream. I fought hard for my flagship, Wilemans!.com, which was coming up for second-round VC financing.
Patsy told me Apax were interested - but they'd come in only if Kleiner came in. Kleiner hated it, but might come in if CSFB picked up the next round, pre-IPO. CSFB didn't like it, but they might come in if Apax were in. I told Patsy I was out of bandwidth on that one.
She had the last word: 'You just don't get it. You're stuck in the old e-economy. B2B is out, P2P is in. P2P as in Path to Profitability. I want market sizes, revenues, paying customers, and positive cashflow some time before 2099. And I'm sick of hearing about double-clicking and bandwidth. E-time is over, it's adult time.'
That was it. She left me with shattered e-dreams, an outrageous tab and the quiet hiss of empty plates on the conveyor. That's e-commerce for you. One minute you're an e-man, the next you're an ex-man. I'm off to buy a black jacket and grey shirt in Covent Garden (there's a sale on).
Andrew Wileman is a strategy and organisation consultant. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.