Watching how the current economy crises brings the NASDAQ down (it is fluctuating around 1550 as I write these words), the Dot-com bubble crises comes to mind. We have a good opportunity to look back on these times by watching movies about dot-com start-ups. In my bucket I’ve got these: the recently released fiction movie August, and two dot-com-times documentaries: e-Dreams and Startup.com.
Fiction pseudo-documentary movies always have a drawback of over-emphasizing presentation side and blowing out facts. August is no exception. Here we have glamorous interiors of a Landshark “web-something” company packed with funny-looking Macs of 2001, over-emotional actors’ play, and lack of understanding what the heck the Landshark’s business is really about.
Josh Harnett playing Tom Sterling, the Landshark’s co-founder, tries hard to perform like Tom Cruise playing Steve Jobs, but he really lacks charisma and passion that have both of them. The only rousing moment for me was Tom’s speech on “eSymposium” event where he says the following: “Are we making the world a less sucky place or more sucky? How do we every day impacting the suckage?” By the way, a good question for everybody in the IT industry to ask themselves.
Two things that are interesting in this movie besides the speech. First: it emphasizes the difference in a behavior of founders and employees in company’s hard times. Founders are struggling, employees are thinking about an escape. Second: relatives and family comprise an essential part of entrepreneurs and developers life. This point is often missing in blogs, which speak more about technologies and “cool stuff”.
This is a documentary, so here the company’s business model is explained clearly. Kozmo.com performs a 1-hour delivery of books, CDs, etc. after a purchase in an Internet-shop. The coolness of the idea flows down from founders onto all employees and drives them up. This helps the company to gain a momentum and spin up.
As a programmer, I found really boring that the whole movie is about money. The only justification for this is that Kozmo.com really raised lots of money — more than $250 million, and it’s even without an IPO!
Also, the movie lacks material about families or private life of co-founders. We only see the mother of Joseph Park (co-founder) telling how proud she is of her son. But the theme of founders vs. employees is traced in e-Dreams maybe even better than in August. When the company perceives problems with cash, interviews with delivery bikers are interleaved with shootings of top-management meeting. This a really embarrassing moment.
Had I to advice a single movie to watch, I would choose this one. Startup.com achieves a good balance between being spectacular and delivering facts. Telling the story of govWorks.com startup, it covers all-important problems like searching for investors (as it is observed by one of participants, “VC isn’t a synonym for charity”), work vs. life disbalance in founders’ life, competitors activities, product release, etc.
To some extent, Startup.com movie is a real-world, “proper” version of August. What lacks coverage in the movie is the theme of employees. There’s almost no participation of them on the scene. E.g. close to the govWorks.com collapse, we only see short notes about company’s employees headcount, and they go down from 233 to 50 almost in a blink of an eye.
Personally, I enjoyed watching these movies. If you like startup success stories told by Paul Graham and Joel Spolsky, you can also be interested in watching complementary videos about startup failures.