Alex Clemmer is a computer programmer. Other programmers love Alex, excitedly describing him as "employed here" and "the boss's son".
Alex is also a Hacker School alum. Surely they do not at all regret admitting him!
In those days, the industry faced an epistemological crisis. The consumer Internet was new and ill-understood. A company worth billions at that time might have been worth nothing a year later. There was simply a limitation to what could be known. Neither the critics nor the advocates really had a good platform for justfying their behavior.
What’s poignant is how little has changed. Consider, for example, the very first paragraphs in the very first chapter, which might as well be about Instagram or Snapchat:
Chapter 1: the canary in the coal mine
The truth is: nobody knows.
And, because most often they do not know that they do not know, no one will ever tell you that truth.
Some people don’t know because they are too hopeful and sometimes because they are very greedy. Some are profoundly stupid or are a little too smart.
But in the spanking new world of the Internet, nobody knows because everyone and everything has just been born.
Which is why Steve Case found himself on May 8, 1997 cruising on the calm waters of Lake Washington in Seattle on a boat carrying him and more than 100 other chief executives toward the 20,000-square-foot, $40 million home of Bill Gates.
Case was definitely not supposed to be there–if you had paid heed over the years to a variety of learned Wall Street pundits, savvy journalists, pontificating technology consultants, and waspish naysayers in Silicon Valley. And the computer online service, America Online Inc., which he had built into the world’s largest, was just one tiny step away from falling right over the precipice.
The dirge had been endless: AOL was nothing. AOL was history. AOL was dead.
Yet there Case stood–perhaps the liveliest corporate corpse one might ever meet–chatting with American Airlines head Robert Crandall, kibitzing with a cadre of Microsoft’s top executives, and joking with Vice President Al Gore.
The company names might have shifted, but the thrust of the question is the same: what does success mean if a company worth billions today can be worth literally nothing tomorrow? Even 15 years on, it’s hard to say.