I’m a big fan of Net Cafe, a show that mirrored the rise and fall of the neon, Zima-swilling dotcom era better than any other. This episode, from 2001, comes from near the end of the show’s run, and as such it’s a brilliant look into the coming downfall of Silicon Valley. (Never mind that the episode’s lead sponsor was pc2pc, a program for copying your hard drive over dialup.)
The premise is great: Net Cafe found four goons to come on the show and pitch their startup ideas, with a panel of judges to decide the winner. We still think of Zuck, the Google dudes, and even MySpace Tom as the prototypical web startup geniuses, which makes a bunch of middle-aged suits (killer mustaches notwithstanding) hyping themselves in the Internet game altogether more hilarious.
The dotcom era has been caricatured by just about everybody as a time when bosses turned their offices into Razor scooter-filled playgrounds and handed out stock from paper towel-like rolls. Sure, goofball excess definitely didn’t help keep the bubble from bursting, but I think this Net Cafe episode exemplifies how that bubble got inflated in the first place.
The four startups featured — switchhouse.com, myplay.com, mycfo.com, and christianity.com — are all rather bland and show how derivative a lot of potential companiers were. Switchhouse’s thing was that it helped you trade the stuff you don’t want for stuff you do. It’s like a guy saw Craigslist, and decided to cash in by creating a similar system that just happens to be filled with people bartering over trash. MyPlay and MyCFO both represent the people who bought the URL first and came up with a business plan second: Here’s another file sharing site, but different! Here’s where you can get financial advice from a computer, without the expensive confidence an actual accredited bank or adviser might impart! (Christianity.com, whatever it turned out to be, is a good idea, that URL must be worth a fortune.)
But enough trash talking. These are real people with real dreams, right? Well, maybe they’re more like bloodsuckers, but I’ll leave it up to the judges to decide who’s a failure or not. Enjoy!