Book: Boo Hoo - A dot com story So, I promised three books for August. Thankfully there are a few days left and with the bank holiday ahead there is time just to squeeze one more read in (Amazon allowing). My final recommendation for this month is:
Boo Hoo: A Dot Com Story
Authors: Ernst Malmsten (one of the founders), Erik Portanger, Charles Drazin
Paperback: 385 pages
Published: New edition 2002
Random House
Ease of reading: 5/5

The book describes the journey from the idea of Boo.com (an UK internet company founded by Swedes Ernst Malmsten, Kajsa Leander and Patrik Hedelin) through it’s growth to final demise. This is the tale of probably the most famous UK Dot Coms to go bust and provides a good reminder in how much we’ve forgotten so quickly.

Written collaboratively Ernst Malmsten (on of Boo’s founders) and two other writers it is essential to try not to get annoyed by the gloss of arrogance that pervades the book and keep on reading.

You’ll be taken into a world that started small, and somehow became overwhelming, overly ambitious and out of control. On the way you travel first class across the Atlantic, stay in 5 star hotels, drink champagne in London clubs, go through various office moves and begin to see how easily the company burned through $130million + of investors money in the shake of a lambs tail (otherwise known as 18 months). Owing their creditors (mostly advertising agencies) £12 million and their 400+ employees wages when the company went under.

Keen observers will also notice how some of the simpler parts to running a business, let alone a complex multi-national web start-up, are rarely apparent. Commercial realities were not something that these founders were familiar with. Project management, keeping tight control of budgets, timings and good HR practices are not what this book is about (which does keep things interesting).

The launch of the site was delayed and it’s user experience heavily criticised. Usability expert Jakob Nielesn wrote a mini review at the time of the launch, saying:

Boo.com takes itself too seriously. Instead of making it easy to shop, the site insists on getting in your face with a clumsy interface. It’s as if the site is more intent on making you notice the design than on selling products.

But were the founders entirely to blame? Investors and investment banks at the time were all keen to have a Dot Com on their books, to claim their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Surrounding the founders were investors and supposed financial experts, who themselves bought into the Boo dream. In doing so they left their more rational, cost conscious, profit margin, ROI, selves behind. They were the ones who put in the millions, hoping that Boo would make a large and quick returns their investment.

But few asked how.

Ernst’s last message to staff was:

I wanted to write to you one last time as a group. I’m very proud to have worked with all of you to create this business. I’m sorry that in the end we couldn’t turn things around and maybe that was my fault.

KPMG must finish this process. I will help them in any way I can, but they are in charge.

I will still be around to help anyone with anything I can, especially finding new jobs, and want to spend time with people individually. You’ll be able to find me in the global cafe, Golden Square during the days and at various bars around Soho (to be advised) during the evenings at any time over the next few weeks.

I’m also going to visit all of the foreign offices and try to help them in any way that I can.

You can contact me at: emalmsten@hotmail.com or on my mobile number which will remain +44 7887 791 298. I’d really like to keep hearing from you all.

Thank you.

Ernst.

Ironically, when the company went into liquidation many of the usability problems that had caused difficulty at launch had largely been resolved.

This book is a primer for anyone considering launching a digital media start-up but also for those considering investing in one.