[RedHerring] Dot-commers say the darndest things

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From: Linda (joelinda1@home.com)
Date: Wed Jul 26 2000 - 21:33:50 PDT


SHOP TALK: Dot-commers say the darndest things

If you're an investor in Web companies, work at one, or deal
with them, you've heard the silly things dot-commers say.
After all, a silver tongue can make loss seem like
opportunity, desperation seem like hope.

But even in a world of Internet superhype, dot-commers push
the limit. Whatever you call it -- marketing-speak,
doubletalk, spin -- they have a language all their own.

The same thing happened a few years ago in the computer
industry. No one sold "products." They offered "solutions."
They were "unique value propositions" that were "best of

Of course, these were safe things to say. No one wants
"worst of breed," or technology that isn't valuable.
Realistically, any purchase costs money, making it an
expense, not "a value proposition."

Sugarcoated words make us feel good when there's pain. They
add shine where there's dirt. They make the mundane seem
special. Managing such perceptions is especially important
in the new economy, where so many Internet companies rack up
huge losses and struggle to survive.

No matter what industry -- agriculture, automobiles,
retailing, or travel -- dot-commers have adopted
doublespeak. In their honor, I present you with my top 10
list of the silliest things they say.


10. "We don't have any competition."

This chestnut has been uttered to me by companies of all
sorts, most recently by a business-to-business (B2B)
exchange, a Web publisher, and an online funeral planner
(which, by the way, is one of several). In my book,
everybody has competition.

9. "They're not a competitor, they're a potential partner."

Even competition somehow isn't competition in the dot-com
world. Perhaps this thinking refers to hope that a
competitor will buy a failing dot-com's assets. This harkens
back to ex-Novell chief Ray Noorda's catch phrase "co-

8. "We're a pre-IPO company."

Any startup company is "pre-IPO," which only means it has
the potential for an initial public offering. Technically,
you can say that about a networking firm, an online
retailer, or a mom-and-pop corner grocery store. The ugly
truth, however, is that only a small fraction of those
hopefuls will be successful enough to go public.

7. "The shakeout is good because the strong will survive."

Here's a standard refrain uttered by dot-com executives
regarding the recent nosedive in Internet stocks and flurry
of news about dot-com layoffs and closings. Somehow the
shakeout applies to the other guys, not oneself. The last
person who said this to me recently put his year-old
company's IPO on hold.

6. "We've changed our business model -- now we're a software

Here's what's really happening: Started a company; built a
software platform for it; marketed it as a B2B exchange or
auction site; watched sales sputter; now trying to salvage
business by selling off software.

5. "These numbers are conservative."

Sales forecasts, especially for unproven businesses, are
exercises in wishful thinking. All of the sales forecasts
I've ever seen predict great success after a few years.
That's not "conservative." That's "wildly optimistic."

4. "We were B2C, but now we're B2B."

After seeing so many of their business-to-consumer (B2C)
investments tank, VCs dropped the second "c" and added
another "b." Folks at now-defunct BBQ.com told me VCs seemed
to dive under their desks when they came calling. I've also
seen retailers and online bookstores suddenly proclaim their
love for B2B.

3. "We've chosen not to take the funding route."

Doublespeak at its best. The CEO of an auction site used
these words to describe how he was unable to raise any more
venture capital.

2. "We didn't shut down; we're in transition."

Not long ago, firing all your employees meant closing shop.
Now it means "repositioning." For example, Boxlot CEO Fred
Carrie said his firm wasn't going out of business, but he's
moved on to another company. Side note: when you hear
someone saying No. 2, it's usually followed by No. 6.

1. "We've decided to focus on profits."

As opposed to focusing on losses? Excuse me, but isn't this
what business is all about?

- Ken Yamada


[Interestingly, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos decided to focus on
profits in tonight's conference call... ]



....Bezos addressed what was on everyone's mind (and what helped
to drive the stock down 4% during regular trading Wednesday).
When several people called investor relations after hearing of
Galli's departure, "they were concerned that Joe was the symbol of
Amazon.com's drive to profitability, while I serve as the symbol
of growth at any cost," he said.

Bezos said that wasn't the case at all, and assured investors that
the company is focused on eventually making money (though he wouldn't
say just when). He's an advocate of balanced growth, he said more
than once, and is completely committed to driving profitability.

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