The news that Commerce One
This is a company that in 1999 had a market capitalization approaching $20 billion. Its success, and that of its industry, seemed assured. The biggest question on people's minds was whether it would dominate business-to-business e-commerce (B2B) or whether rival Ariba
And just so you think I'm not just picking on Business 2.0, We have our own B2B albatross here, comparing, once again, Ariba vs. Commerce One. I'm not sure why "none of the above" didn't occur to more people.
The point isn't to hash over the failures of the B2B companies to capture the trillions in revenue that was their birthright. Rather, the imminent doom of Commerce One sent me on a bit of a trip of nostalgia. What other lions of the 1990s had I banished from my memory banks? Plenty of them.
One company that jumped off the page right away was computing solutions company Akamai
Not even a reprisal performance as "Uncle John" in Shaft 2000 brought Mr. Roundtree back into the public's consciousness for more than a blink of an eye. In the same way, Iomega
"You shut your mouth."
@Home. Dead. Next question.
Lernout & Hauspie. Rock star dead, with extreme prejudice. Next question.
Usually "Mr." names are pretty cool. There may not be a cooler sports nickname ever than Reggie Jackson's "Mr. October," for example. This band, on the other hand, made music so bad and so ubiquitous that I'm pretty sure they caused more than one brain hemorrhage during their heyday. "Broken Wings" was nearly enough to cause me to want to drive into a bridge abutment. Just so, Manugistics
Remember Harold Miner? When he came out of Southern Cal, people labeled him "Baby Jordan," so reminiscent was his game of Michael Jordan's. "Baby Kent Benson" is a little more like it. Miner was a good player, he was just overhyped, and it ruined his confidence. Hmmmmmm. That sort of reminds me of QXL.com, which became QXL Ricardo (Pink Sheets: QXLRF.PK). This European online bidding service was supposed to be the "next eBay." In April 2000, an SG Cowen analyst called it just that, and QXL responded by quadrupling the next day, only to close with a mere double. QXL is a fine little company, but it will never, ever be eBay
There is another company the mention of which is fraught with a little bit of freight for The Motley Fool. I hadn't thought about it for several years until the other day: Celera
So, like the late, (much less lamented) Lambada, they danced this way and that, first offering to sell their raw findings to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and then later announcing that they were going to go into the therapeutic development business themselves. Unfortunately, the one word that most certainly does not go with therapy development is "fast." Celera's out there, plugging along, trying to get a win before the cash runs out.
I don't have much to say about any of these companies -- as I noted, they're here specifically because I had completely lost track of them. If there is a lesson, it is that there is no such thing as an "obvious winner" that can't get derailed in a big way. Each of these companies compete in industries that have grown to be quite substantial in scope, and yet they have each to some degree fallen off the table and into obscurity.
In what may be the most unkind cut of all, I spoke not too long ago with management of CCBN, a company that offers a subscription service to, among other things, company conference calls. The Thomson Corporation
It may be a surprise to many that Bill Mann owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. For a complete list of his holdings, please consult his profile. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.