Kuo, J. David 1968-
KUO, J. David 1968-
PERSONAL: Born 1968; married; wife's name Kim.
ADDRESSES: Home—Lives in Virginia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Little, Brown & Company, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: ValueAmerica.com, Charlottesville, VA, senior vice president of communications. Worked variously in politics, as a journalist, speechwriter, and for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: J. David Kuo was a senior executive of the start-up company ValueAmerica.com during the heyday of e-commerce. Dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath is Kuo's story of the rise and demise of that ill-fated company.
Charismatic businessman Craig Winn had a vision; he would found the first inventory-less company to boast retail profits. His business model seemed intelligent, enough so to attract high-profile investors such as Paul Allen (Microsoft) and Frederick W. Smith (FedEx). But theory does not always translate to reality, and Winn's ValueAmerica—the Wal-Mart of the Internet—died almost as quickly as it was born. ValueAmerica went public in 1999; sixteen months later, the company claimed bankruptcy. Hundreds of millions of investment dollars were lost, not to mention the loss of jobs and security for employees.
Kuo gives readers the inside scoop of the debacle in a book that reads almost like a soap opera. Winn comes across as a near guru, a misguided mystic whose grip on reality is questionable. Before the end of this 314-page memoir, in an indication of his delusional tendencies, Winn announces his desire to be president of the United States. The company's CEO believed the success of ValueAmerica depended solely upon God. Kuo himself admits to being gullible, believing the too-good-to-be-true promises and succumbing to the temptation to get rich quick. He even persuaded his fiancée to quit her position with AOL and go to work for ValueAmerica.
Because Kuo came on board after the company had already been established, his recounting of Winn's rise without firsthand knowledge is a quality for which the book has been criticized. New York Times reviewer Rob Walker wrote that Kuo "seems to have dealt with this by interviewing those who were there, but he's often vague on his sourcing." Still, Business Week reviewer John A. Byrne called Dot.bomb "a wildly entertaining romp through the worst of the dot-com era," adding that the book "reads like pure farce."
Dot.bomb can also be considered a how-not-to guide when it comes to starting and running a business. Kuo regales readers with Winn's seeming inability to tell the truth. At one point, Winn announced that ValueAmerica had more than 400,000 customers, while Kuo insists that the number was then actually under 30,000. After a meeting with Citibank officials, Winn claimed, "Citibank was awed by me. When we were leaving they pulled me aside and said, 'We are awed by your genius. We never met anyone like you. We think you are sent by God.'" However, a deal with Citibank never materialized, and Kuo failed to see the warning signs.
Like his colleagues, Kuo's hope was kept alive, his better judgment smothered, by dreams of what the future might hold. ValueAmerica executives enjoyed the perks of working for Winn, a man who spent his—and others'—money freely, and thought nothing of flying employees around in his company jet. Kuo admits that he even believed Winn had what it took to become governor of Virginia, the first step in his journey to the White House.
Eventually Winn was ousted by the board, and the company folded. What began as one man's dream ended as many workers' nightmares. After Kuo and his wife left the company, they spent Thanksgiving watching Alaska at an IMAX movie theater. In a moment of epiphany Kuo realized, "We might look like hip, chic, cutting edge, new-economy Internet workers, but in fact a lot of us were kin to those poor, freezing fools in Alaska who had staked everything on turning up a glittering chunk of gold."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Dot.bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath, p. 276.
Business Week, January 14, 2002, review of Dot.bomb, p. 16.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of Dot.bomb, p. 1191.
Library Journal, October 1, 2001, Jim Burns, review of Dot. bomb, p. 116.
New Statesman, December 10, 2001, Adam Wishart, review of Dot.bomb, pp. 55-56.
New York Times, October 7, 2001, Susan Stellin, "Tales of a Distant Era (a Few Months Ago)," p. BU5.
New York Times Book Review, November 4, 2001, Rob Walker, "Flash in the Pan," p. 13.
Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2001, Daniel Akst, review of Dot.bomb, p. A24.
Business Week,http://www.businessweek.com/ (January 14, 2002), John A. Byrne, "A Highflier's Legacy: Low Comedy."
Houston Chronicle,http://www.chron.com/ (November 2, 2001), Martha Liebrum, "Gold Fever Chilled."
Time Warner Books,http://www.TWBookmark.com/ (January 13, 2002).*