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High Stakes, No Prisoners : A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars

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1999, Crown Business, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780812931433, Book Condition: New, 014029 1D


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1999, Crown Business, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780812931433, Book Condition: New, 014029 1D

30 review for High Stakes, No Prisoners : A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Seltzer

    In High Stakes, No Prisoners , Charles Ferguson describes in detail his experiences as founder of Vermeer, the company that developed FrontPage, software that makes it easy to design Web pages and sites, which Microsoft made popular after buying the company. His account is candid and personal, providing useful insights into dealing with venture capital companies and problems that Internet startup companies, and particularly software companies, are likely to encounter. Along the way, he brutalize In High Stakes, No Prisoners , Charles Ferguson describes in detail his experiences as founder of Vermeer, the company that developed FrontPage, software that makes it easy to design Web pages and sites, which Microsoft made popular after buying the company. His account is candid and personal, providing useful insights into dealing with venture capital companies and problems that Internet startup companies, and particularly software companies, are likely to encounter. Along the way, he brutalizes the decisions that led to the fall of Netscape, and repeatedly criticizes the predatory business tactics of Microsoft. I was deeply involved in Internet business during the era described, working as an Internet evangelist for Digital Equipment, then Compaq 1993-1998. I know some of the people mentioned along the way, and remember the industry events/developments described. But much of what I read here bears little resemblance to my memories. For me that was a plus for this book, helping me to take another look at those events from a different perspective. But, in general, readers should beware -- the author's viewpoint is very personal, emotional and idiosyncratic. That's the book's greatest strength as well as its weakness. Don't expect dispassionate history or unbiased business analysis. Do expect an entertaining inside look at board-room-level wheeling and dealing in the early days of business on the Internet. Sometimes the author seems more interested in settling old scores than seeking truth. As part of the purchase agreement, Microsoft made Ferguson agree to say absolutely nothing to anybody about Microsoft for a couple years. He used that time to write this book, and published it after the gag order expired. While these pages deal with high tech business, there's personal emotion in every page, sometimes descending to mere gossip, rather then providing details about decisions and business techniques that you could adapt to your own business. But that approach helps make this book very readable, entertaining, dynamic. On the other hand, He does an exceptionally good job of explaining to a non-technical audience the importance of architecture in software design, and the long-term consequences (illustrated by the case of Netscape) of failing to structure your company and your design efforts that way. Along the way, Ferguson makes himself sound like a prophet for foreseeing trends that seemed obvious to many others in the industry at the time, but that, admittedly, seemed outrageously revolutionary and impossible to outsiders. But he is also brutally honest about his own failures. Apparently, he was extremely lucky to sell Vermeer to Microsoft when he did and for a very good price. At that time, Vermeer had generated trivial revenue, only selling about 200 copies of FrontPage. While they got lots of attention in the press and good visibility at trade shows, they apparently had mispriced the product and the end-user marketing effort was going nowhere. Considering that outcome, you might think that one of the major lessons learned should have been the importance of marketing strategy to the business success of an Internet startup. But no -- he sees his mistakes more in terms of personalities, such as hiring the wrong person to run the company. His bias is still strongly in favor of making business decisions based on technology, and putting little emphasis on marketing and management. He makes a few sneering references to the Internet Assistant -- Microsoft's first attempt at an easy-to-use Web authoring tool, which was later incorporated into Word for Office 98. Actually, that's an excellent, very efficient, very easy-to-use solution, which I've used for creating Web pages since 1995. He also shows no awareness of the main weakness of FrontPage -- that it focuses narrowly on page design, with no appreciation for the marketing value of Web content, no built-in understanding of the search-engine-related consequences of page design decisions. Hence users often create sites and pages that search engines can't index or index poorly, and hence they wind up having to spend more in marketing and advertising to attract traffic. His analysis of the Internet software industry feels limited and flawed. It needs to be balanced by an appreciation for open software development efforts like Apache and Linux. (See the excellent book on that subject The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond, and my review of it at www.seltzerbooks.com/bazaar.html). In Web server software, not Netscape, not Microsoft, but Apache appears to be the clear winner -- with no advertising, no fanfare. If you are looking for venture capital for an Internet startup, this book is a "must-read." Ferguson's experience and advice might prove very useful. He names names (both individuals and companies) and blasts away with brutal, very personal candor. But you need to keep in mind that venture capital procedures and players change very quickly. In Internet terms Ferguson's 1994-96 experience is ancient history, valuable mainly as background. This is another "Internet entrepreneur as modern-day hero" book. It emphasizes every thought and gesture and negotiating ploy of the folks at the top -- like the old-style history books that focused on the intrigues of royal families and the speeches of generals. It gives no clue of what happened in the trenches, what mattered to the folks who were doing the day-to-day design and marketing work or to the folks who needed and used software products of this kind. Conclusion -- you have to read it; you'll enjoy reading it; but you'll wind up with an empty feeling in your gut and a bitter aftertaste in your mouth.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kiro Selanor

    I only read the introduction, and then I skimmed through it. The problem is that this book is too old: I read it in 2012 but it was published in 1999, and its analysis of the startup industry is outdated. E.g., the author offers reasons why Microsoft should be broken up. Also, it’s a long and dense wall of text which is daunting. The writing is not particularly entertaining, so without additional value there was no point in reading this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    The story of the author’s East coast startup, Vermeer Technologies, which was bought by Microsoft in a deal concluded in January 1996, has been hailed as classic of tech autobiography. It’s a rare insight into the unique blend of intelligence, good timing, cunning and an almost magical ability to squeak through the narrowest of gaps, that characterises successful tech entrepreneurship. Ferguson’s account has the added attraction of being gob-smackingly rude about some of his colleagues and busine The story of the author’s East coast startup, Vermeer Technologies, which was bought by Microsoft in a deal concluded in January 1996, has been hailed as classic of tech autobiography. It’s a rare insight into the unique blend of intelligence, good timing, cunning and an almost magical ability to squeak through the narrowest of gaps, that characterises successful tech entrepreneurship. Ferguson’s account has the added attraction of being gob-smackingly rude about some of his colleagues and business partners. More of that later. What I hadn’t expected is the other strand, the chapters of industry analysis that draw on Ferguson’s previous career as a consultant to big tech companies, an occupation that he disarmingly tells us he was very good at. You can see why. The talent to skewer a deceitful colleague with a brilliantly apposite phrase is the same one that lets Ferguson sum up complex industry trends and deliver judicious, forward-looking assessments that nobody in their right mind could disagree with. I can well imagine how lazy or not too bright CEOs felt good about paying Ferguson do their strategic thinking. More than ten years on, much of Ferguson’s analysis looks prescient. He highlights privacy and piracy; he enthuses about the online distribution of all forms of artistic and entertainment content but worries about the business model: “one thing that recording companies, publishers and movie studios do well is make sure that they get paid.” And he recognises a world in which there will be “an increasing premium on people with high levels of education” and a widening gap between rich and poor “both within and between nations”. He argues for the breakup of Microsoft into an operating system business and an applications business (which was being discussed at the time as part of the Department of Justice’s case against the company). But he praises Bill Gates for his relentless focus and professionalism and for the setting of uniform standards in the emerging computer industry that benefitted consumers. He blames Netscape for a disastrous and unforced throwing away of an initial lead over Microsoft in the ‘browser wars’. All this is interesting and written with pace and passion. But it’s the other part of the book that gives it its reputation. When Ferguson takes us into the daily traumas of setting up and eventually selling Vermeer, we feel we’re at the table with him, struggling to handle the pressures of his manipulative VCs, of rival companies springing up with what looks like the same idea, and worst of all, the greedy CEO he hired in what he later sees as a moment of tragic misjudgment. His name was John Mandile. I can’t imagine how the book ever got past the lawyers or, since it did, how Mandile ever recovered from what Ferguson had to say about him. But apparently he did, since according to Bloomberg Businessweek, he’s now managing director of Sigma Partners, one of the VC companies that backed Vermeer. He accuses Mandile of a litany of elaborate self-interested moves starting with deliberately delaying the signing of his contract as CEO in order to put Vermeer into a more desperate position, thereby improving his bargaining power. Together with Ferguson’s mortgage problems, his relationship with his girlfriend, and the need to hit trade show deadlines with impressive demos, the life of a tech entrepreneur is evidently mind-bogglingly complicated. Whilst I loved the book for its raw, slapstick material – the clash of big ambitions, big egos and big money – for that kind of thing I still marginally prefer Michael Wolff’s Burn Rate (published in 1998, a year before Ferguson’s book, but covering the same era). But High [email protected], No Prisoners is right up there with it, and provides a richer insight into the mainstream of tech history, with its graphic presentation of the impossible choice Ferguson faced between falling into the arms (or jaws) of Netscape and those of Microsoft. I won’t spoil things by telling you it all turns out well. Ferguson cashes his $14 million cheque, buys himself a first class ticket to California, feeling “numb yet free”, and settles down to recover – by writing the book,

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anton

    Автор книги - основатель компании Vermeer Technologies, которая создала FrontPage. В книге описывается вся история от появления идеи и формирования команды до продажи компании Microsoft. Автор начинает книгу обзором истории создания интернета и открытия Web, описывает состояние дел в IT индустрии на тот момент в целом и процессы, атмосферу Кремниевой Долины в частности. Далее автор рассказывает о формировании команды, поиске инвесторов и о сложных переговорах с ними. Не малая часть книги посвящена Автор книги - основатель компании Vermeer Technologies, которая создала FrontPage. В книге описывается вся история от появления идеи и формирования команды до продажи компании Microsoft. Автор начинает книгу обзором истории создания интернета и открытия Web, описывает состояние дел в IT индустрии на тот момент в целом и процессы, атмосферу Кремниевой Долины в частности. Далее автор рассказывает о формировании команды, поиске инвесторов и о сложных переговорах с ними. Не малая часть книги посвящена истории взлета и падения компании Netscape. Проводится анализ ошибок компании и описываются возможные пути выживания. Во второй половине книги автор описывает переговоры о поглощении с компаниями Netcape и Microsoft, с сопутствующими проблемами (в частности с нанятым профессиональным CEO). Эта часть книги особенно захватывающа - читается на одном дыхании. В последних главах описываюстся и анализируются возможные пути выживания для Netscape, феномен Microsoft, проблемы и вопросы, стоящие перед Internet/Web индустрией. Книга дала возможность узнать, как "работает" Кремниевая Долина, увидеть, как создается компания, и насколько это непросто даже для такого опытного человека как Charles Ferguson, изучить допущенные ошибки.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James Haring

    This book has two parts and each is reviewed. Part 1: The story of the author's starting Vermeer Software and Front Page application. An interesting story of VC funding, starting a company, dealing with Netscape and MicroSoft. Making a deal with MicroSoft to by Vermeer. Part 2: In this part Mr. Ferguson reaches back to his Poly-Sci roots and includes three chapters of analysis. One chapter is the analysis of the failure of Netscape. Mr Ferguson had a very good view of this saga and is quite frank i This book has two parts and each is reviewed. Part 1: The story of the author's starting Vermeer Software and Front Page application. An interesting story of VC funding, starting a company, dealing with Netscape and MicroSoft. Making a deal with MicroSoft to by Vermeer. Part 2: In this part Mr. Ferguson reaches back to his Poly-Sci roots and includes three chapters of analysis. One chapter is the analysis of the failure of Netscape. Mr Ferguson had a very good view of this saga and is quite frank in his analysis. A good lesson for for any business leader. One chapter is an analysis of MicroSoft and how to deal with its monopoly. This chapter shows its age and while it was good advice in 1999 in 2014 a reader may not gain much. The history of US anti-trust actions and failures would be worth reading. One chapter is the future of the internet. Written in 1999 before the internet crash it is timely and still relevant. The analysis of US telecom is still accurate. More over his predictions have all become mostly true.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    From the Cult of Smart, and Silicone Valley, comes this overview of how to launch a start-up during the Internet boom of the mid-1990's. The Cult of Smart being the group of people who grade everyone by how intelligent, on a scientific or mathematical basis, they appear to be. Emotional Intelligence? That's just a dumb fallacy invented by Arts graduates. He seems to be oblivious about the "Smartest Guys in the Room" who drove Enron over a cliff. What's "smart" about ripping off your employees, c From the Cult of Smart, and Silicone Valley, comes this overview of how to launch a start-up during the Internet boom of the mid-1990's. The Cult of Smart being the group of people who grade everyone by how intelligent, on a scientific or mathematical basis, they appear to be. Emotional Intelligence? That's just a dumb fallacy invented by Arts graduates. He seems to be oblivious about the "Smartest Guys in the Room" who drove Enron over a cliff. What's "smart" about ripping off your employees, competitors, investors, shareholders and public? Or Smart about having your nose so far in the trough all you can see is all the other pigs' heads in there with you, and all you can worry about is that they might be getting more than you. The most amazing fact in the book was that when Microsoft bought them for $150 million they'd sold 238 copies - 238 copies! - of Frontpage. He can't really believe it either.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A fairly unfiltered view of the Valley in the late 90's, as well as the VC and startup industry in general. Strongly recommended for those involved in entrepreneurship, as the best parts of the book describe the various challenges involved in running a new tech business (i.e. everything from raising money to dealing with employees to resolving key leadership disputes). The musings on tech as a whole are fairly dated (MSFT was master of the universe then) but the deeper insights and experiences a A fairly unfiltered view of the Valley in the late 90's, as well as the VC and startup industry in general. Strongly recommended for those involved in entrepreneurship, as the best parts of the book describe the various challenges involved in running a new tech business (i.e. everything from raising money to dealing with employees to resolving key leadership disputes). The musings on tech as a whole are fairly dated (MSFT was master of the universe then) but the deeper insights and experiences are still useful.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joe Yaffe

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sangram Chahal

  11. 5 out of 5

    fiamma

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Lockhart

  13. 5 out of 5

    Saeef Rimon

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joel T. Frauenheim

  15. 4 out of 5

    John

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dino Cruz

  17. 5 out of 5

    Omar Sahal

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tom Conder

  19. 5 out of 5

    Akhil Kar

  20. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bob Simon

  22. 5 out of 5

    Todd Storch

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  24. 4 out of 5

    Irwin Jungreis

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mohamed Zahran

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Richan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bob

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christophe Dupre

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matt Mattox

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mike

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