Back in America, economic tidings have been a lot brighter. For one thing, a whole previously unknown venue for commerce seems about to blossom on the Internet. How did things change so quickly on a medium that a few short years ago seemed to have no commercial potential? You'll find some answers in the richly entertaining Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet, a first-person account of an unwitting entrepreneurial journey through the first phase of the Internet's commercialization.
Journalist Michael Wolff was an early believer in the Internet and started a company. It was the mid-1990s and the American financial machine was getting awfully excited about the Internet. (It still is.) That doesn't mean that every entrepreneurial dream is a happy one, especially in an Internet world where the rules are being made up as the companies exponentially grow. Profits don't exist and the almighty “burn rate” (the money a company spends each month that exceeds revenues) forms an ever-present cloud ready to rain on the entrepreneur's parade.
Wolff is a strong, self-deprecating, and often humorous writer. He relates his own experiences with financial backers, venture capitalists, investment bankers, and some well-known Internet names. This is interspersed with some hyperhistory of the “net,” circa 1994 through 1997. The book reads like a novel (a good thing), but in that sense the conclusion of Wolff's story is a bit of an anti-climax (I won't reveal details). Still, you won't often find a first-person account of starting a business in the fast lane that so provocatively reveals the voraciousness, duplicity, and plain old hardball tactics that are the province of the financial types who keep capitalism humming. When the sky is the limit and a company's financial reserves will only last a matter of weeks, it makes for some hectic action.
Reviewed by Neal Lipschutz.