Our erstwhile Controller Fran Bainbridge recently compiled a list of every client our firm has represented since its inception in 1995.
Talk about a trip down memory lane. Wow! Along with the GEs, Tycos and Avayas, there was the government of Kuwait (which, to this day, hasn’t paid us for managing a special event five years ago), Playboy.com (my partner, Ed, is still kidded about the advice proffered to Christie Hefner about how best to cross and uncross her legs during interviews) and Vayu Web (a technology company whose owner was found floating face down in Long Island Sound one Summer morning around the turn of the millennium).
What really struck a nerve, though, were the dotcoms, all of whom thought they were the modern day equivalent of alchemists who could transform a mundane, mediocre business model into instant gold.
There was FerrousExchange, which enabled online trading of precious minerals (there’s a big market for you!), VisionRx, which hoped consumers would pay money to test their eyes on a desktop eye chart (er, ah, the mouse cord only extends 18 inches and patients are supposed to be 20 feet away from the eye chart) and Hypernix, whose hard-charging Israeli commando-type executives connected web visitors to people with similar interests and backgrounds.
As crazy, condescending and downright confusing as some of the dotcom executives and their business models were, though, they were no match for the interactive eAgencies that arrived on the scene to charge outrageous fees for creating Web site infrastructures. These were the true masters of the dotcom universe and, boy, they let you know it in no uncertain terms.
We had our fair share of these firms: Iguana Studios, Methodfive and Noblestar come to mind.
The best example of the "Alice in Wonderland" mindset that prevailed in those days, though, had to be an interactive eAgency calling itself iFrame.
iFrame hired us to create their positioning and publicity and, man oh man, were they ever in a hurry. Right after we began the positioning process, we literally had to stop almost immediately. That’s because management didn’t want us to create a unique and sustainable positioning that would set them apart from the competition. Instead, they wanted to be seen as just another Razorfish, Sapient or iXL. I remember the CEO screaming at our team and saying, "Look, all we want is for the Street to think we’re just like the other web designers, give us an outrageous valuation and then take us public. This is all about us making millions. Period! If you can’t get that through your minds, then leave."
Needless to say, iFrame went nowhere fast with their "me too" strategy and went belly up in a few months’ time. We tried to collect some of our unpaid monies only to have them counter-sue us for "poor performance." It was classic dotcom nonsense. Naturally, the business disappeared long before we could reclaim a dime.
In retrospect, I’m amazed how an entire "sector" came and went in the blink of an eye. From an image and reputation standpoint, dotcoms were absolutely white hot in the late ’90s. If you weren’t working for, or representing , dotcoms, you were a nobody. But, by the early part of the new decade, they were gone with the wind, and many former high-flying dotcom employees were struggling to land decent jobs with the brick-and-mortar companies they had once disdained. Yes, indeed, Fran’s list of former clients sure brought back some interesting memories.