Bidding Adieu To The Year’s Dot-Com Failures

Dec. 28, 2000, Chicago Tribune
TechLife: Barbara Rose

You didn’t have to be wealthy or stupid to lose money this year on an Internet venture, although plenty of affluent people blew millions of dollars on dumb ideas.

You only had to be willing to be seduced by the idea that the Internet offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: A chance to change the world, to do business in a new way, to shower IPO riches on your friends and family.

Those notions and others fueled one of the zaniest manias in financial history. Now we’re suffering from an Internet hangover that will persist for months if not years.

Our pain is just beginning, but time is running out to commemorate the many failures. There’s just three days left in a year that brought us to the peak of Internet euphoria before letting us down hard.

Now is as good a time as any to hum a few bars of “Auld Lang Syne” and tip a cup o’ kindness to the scores of ephemeral e-businesses who’ve sent billions to money heaven. Most started the year tooting their horns before joining a silent stampede for the virtual exits.

California’s promised us a world in which our stockings would perfectly complement our skin tones and our sizes never would be out of stock.

Instead, the legwear e-tailer socked it to investors, including founder and local venture capitalist William Lederer .

Chicago entrepreneur Louis Amoroso II planned to place the world’s largest selection of beer, wine and spirits at our fingertips. He began building a national warehouse chain to assure delivery within 48 hours.

Instead, gulped $24 million without ringing up any sales.

How much did Amoroso lose?

The 33-year-old doesn’t want to tell: “If I say how much, I’ll cry.”

Billionaire real estate investor William Sanders envisioned businesses using the Web to market and lease space. He put his money on–short for Commercial Realty Online, which listed more than 4,000 properties on the Web.

Comro will observe the new year by shutting down on Sunday.

If you dozed off two years ago, Rip Van Winkle-like, and awakened today, you would have missed a slew of local e-businesses with names like Digital Disrupters, Heavyware,, Covalex and Hey Company.

Chances are you missed them anyway.

Among the most bizarre tales in a year not lacking for colorful digital dramas is that of, whose bankruptcy is pending.

The company’s red-white-and-blue Web site promises to connect consumers with service professionals.

This time last year, USatWork’s founders were hiring furiously to fill the company’s office on the top floor of Continental Towers in Rolling Meadows. A billboard on I-294 advertised $100,000 bonuses for recruits, to be paid in installments over three to five years.

Co-founder Sam Akmakjian, a suburban dentist, figured his start-up was worth about $500 million.

How so? a business adviser asked him.

“We’ll have more Web developers than Yahoo!,” Akmakjian explained.

Seven months later, his company had filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors and laid off all 180 employees.

Carl Varnado, a 23-year-old copywriter, remembers walking into the office on the morning of the layoffs–a recollection similar to those of hundreds of dot-comers who lost jobs this year.

“It was really quiet,” he said. “Everybody was kind of dazed. We went to our cubicles. This one girl was crying.”

Varnado signed a form agreeing not to sue and collected a $500 severance check.

The check bounced. But USatWork taught him a valuable lesson.

“Coming out of school, you think that people who’ve made a lot of money are smarter than you or have a lot of talent. That may be true, but it’s not necessarily the case.”

Happy new year, Carl Varnado. And thank you for the memories.

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