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Introduction > It takes guts to lose money

It takes guts to lose money

Particularly when it's other people's and especially when it adds up to $4 billion.

That is roughly the sum the 13 internet entrepreneurs featured in this book lost in 1999. To be fair, a couple of them, like Yahoo's Jerry Yang, have moved into the black, or, like Netscape's Jim Barksdale, have stepped away from running a business in favour of investing.

But the point is that all 13 have in the past - and in the main have continued to do so - racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in losses with no end in sight.

Doesn't all that red ink irk their entrepreneurial sensibilities? Indeed it does, which is why it takes enormous bravery to keep on course when the business is hemorrhaging cash, when your investors need constant reassuring, when the workforce craves inspiration and when venture capitalists demand nearly all your equity.

The pain is possibly eased from the knowledge that despite these hefty losses, the 12 companies had a combined market capitalization of $170 billion, giving the 13 entrepreneurs a combined wealth of more than $35 billion.

It was not just bravery, however, that qualified the business people chosen for this book. The purpose was to gather a wide variety of the leading managers in the internet industry and quiz them about their strategies, their motivations and their ambitions at this crucial point in the evolution of the new medium.

This would then build up a picture of influences, experiences and beliefs that could point to what it is that makes these leaders of the internet revolution so special, what it is that marks them out. In short, just how they have broken the rules.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon appears by virtue of his enormous reputation in the e-commerce market. The internet's biggest retail brand is also the template for a myriad other web businesses. Bezos's views, often controversial, spell out the future for Amazon, and consequently point the way for many other internet ventures.

Bob Davis of Lycos heads one of the biggest search engine groups. Managing the migration of the advertising-driven business to one in which e-commerce will play a greater role is a significant challenge and one that will be followed closely by others in the same space.

Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans of iVillage are the only women entrepreneurs featured. However, this is not their only claim for inclusion - they are also the only internet community site to feature, and as such face unique challenges in monetizing their business.

Jerry Yang of Yahoo! leads perhaps the strongest brand on the web. The original folk hero of the internet, Yahoo has been the most successful search engine group and continues to be the company that its rivals strive to catch. Yang's strategy, designed to take Yahoo to the next stage of its development, will be crucial to maintaining its lead.

Rod Schrock of AltaVista appears, at first glance, perhaps to be an odd choice for inclusion. A veteran of the computer industry, he was brought into the search engine group relatively recently to rejuvenate its strategy. However, one of the fascinating aspects of the internet is its sheer pace of change, and Schrock's managerial spurs hinge on his ability to move quickly.

Pierre Omidyar of eBay founded one of the web's most famous success stories. His auction site has unleashed an enormous business opportunity, one which dozens if not hundreds of others have sought to copy. However, eBay remains the clear market leader - and Omidyar is determined to keep it that way.

Jay Walker of Priceline is religious in his conviction that his business holds the future for retailing the world over. His name-your-price business model has created enormous ructions, first in the airline industry, and lately in the car rental market. His beliefs in the future of web commerce could hold the key to restructuring across a range of industries.

Christos Cotsakos of E*Trade threw up a secure job in the old world economy to take the reins of one of the companies that has revolutionized the US financial services industry. While the bricks and mortar companies are hitting back, the decorated Vietnam veteran is adamant that they will not deflect E*Trade from its path.

Joe Kraus of Excite@Home helped build one of the best-known names on the web. The search engine group has opted to become part of the @Home group in its belief that bandwidth holds the future for many in the portal space. Kraus's views reveal a company at the crossroads.

Jim Barksdale of Netscape has become an industry legend. He reveals he turned down Bill Gates's offer of a senior post at Microsoft to take up the post at the internet browser group. Now a venture capitalist, Barksdale lists what it takes to attract his funding in a net start-up.

David Hayden of Critical Path appears because of his roller-coaster internet career, which started with the family of Robert Maxwell, the disgraced British media baron, and continues now with his new venture and his plans for a VC fund unlike any other.

Steve Kirsch of Infoseek could be seen as the odd one out of all our entrepreneurs. The search engine group was sold to Disney in the hope that the combined entity would score better than alone. However, the jury remains out and Kirsch is setting out on his own again in a technology-driven venture.

Thirteen people who have made an indelible mark on the internet. How they did so is revealed in the next 12 chapters. But out of them we can draw several conclusions - ways in which the entrepreneurs took accepted business logic and twisted, bent and in some cases broke the rules.

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