Dot com bombs
MOVIES: Startup.com, directed by Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker and Jehane Noujaim.
Review by JASON YELLEN | June 22, 2001 | Page 11
IF YOU'VE wondered what the "dot com" boom looked like from the inside, Startup.com is a place to start.
But not to finish--there's more to the story than this new documentary is willing to tell.
The directors were able to film the birth of govWorks.com, a Web site whose stated mission was "to make government easier to use"--i.e., letting users pay parking tickets online and the like.
The film follows two of the company's cofounders, childhood friends Kaleil Isaza Tuzman and Tom Herman, as they raise money and hire employees--then lose money and fire employees.
After first considering an online wedding registry and a virtual tombstone company, the two started govWorks.com in 1999, at the peak of the Internet bubble.
The film shows people pouring their lives into this startup company--with relationships strained and friendships broken amid the turmoil.
The last third of the film shows the company's demise--with Kaleil firing Tom, his friend since high school.
Yet for all this focus on the human aspect of business, the movie rarely shows govWorks.com's actual workers, preferring to portray the trials and tribulations of top management.
The glimpses that peek through--the bored, tired faces of workers whose company is tanking--tell a different story than the one that Startup.com is interested in.
Of course, whittling down 400 hours of filming into 90 minutes isn't easy. But the directors left out some crucial information.
As a result, Kaleil and Tom come off as babes in the woods--rather than the incompetent con artists that they actually are.
For example, the film shows govWorks' founders raising money for the company--but doesn't show how the two burned up $60 million in less than two years.
Also unmentioned is the Web site that govWorks built for Alameda County, Calif.--which misspelled Alameda.
And the two contracts that Kaleil and Tom lost in Stamford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., because they decided to issue press releases announcing deals that hadn't been signed yet.
Days before the company was set to launch a Web site of government information, a govWorks employee accidentally deleted all the files.
But management hadn't ensured that there were backups of the files, so four months of work was lost.
This, too, isn't mentioned.
In the end, we're left with a portrait of the Internet boom and bust--one that shows the headiness, silliness and excitement on the way up, and the chaos on the way down.
But Startup.com doesn't show the experiences of all sorts of people who go up and down with govWork's founders.
Nonetheless, if you want to see how the Internet bosses think (or don't) and the insanity that prevailed on Wall Street during the late 1990s, see Startup.com.