Techies and VCs wrecked dotcom boom, CBI told

Financial frivolity, loss of nerve, poor technology and a lack of business acumen combined to bring the dotcom movement to its...

Financial frivolity, loss of nerve, poor technology and a lack of business acumen combined to bring the dotcom movement to its knees, according to speakers at the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) Business Summit on Wednesday.

"Venture capitalists don't know everything," asserted Sonia Lo, chief executive of online e-procurement company eZoka.com. "Just because people are managing millions of dollars, doesn't mean they know everything. Really they don't have a clue."

She said new economy organisations had been too quick to take "silly amounts" of money from speculators, and argued that many start-ups had fallen by the wayside because the directors lacked focus and were too reliant on technology to drive their business forward.

Allan Leighton, chairman of lastminute.com said surviving e-commerce companies had learnt a great deal from the mistakes of others and believed this knowledge would ultimately drive industry forward.

"When people look back at this, it won't be seen to be a failure, it will be seen as fantastic. There has been more progress made in these companies in their short lives, than most people will make in a lifetime," he said.

Leighton and Lo pointed out that dotcoms have changed levels of customer expectation. The Internet has brought with it a sense of urgency that, regardless of the nature of companies, has undoubtedly rubbed off. "It's not the big eating the small, it's the fast eating the slow," Leighton commented.

Technology was highlighted as another spanner in the dotcom works. The audience heard that organisations had spent far too much money on IT. Dotcom companies had to invent technology to succeed - and many had failed, the speakers agreed.

Too often, organisations have gone live with sites where the technology is inadequate. The result is a poor customer experience.

According to Leighton, technology spending should focus primarily on the development of applications that aid customers. In the past, he said, technical staff were given too prominent roles within Internet-only organisations.

"The thing with techies, is that they're great techies, but you should cordon them off and keep them very focused," he said. "Put them in a pen and don't let them out until they've done what you want them to do. You have to give them 20% of their time to play because that's what they like to do. And with the remaining 80%, tell them to do what you want them to bloody do."

Leighton argued that British industry has been missing leaders over the past ten years. While it is producing good mangers, he said, they basically do what they are told.

The dotcom boom had produced a generation of new leaders who will lead British businesses in the next decade, he claimed.

Emma Nash

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