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  •  REVIEW: SILICON ALLEY STORIES

    Silicon Alley Stories

    Com lately

    The documentary "Silicon Alley Stories" looks at what happened to those optimistic twentysomethings who came to New York to cash in on the Internet craze.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    (Originally titled "Startupnyc.com." Click here if you're looking for "Startup.com")

      
    SILICON ALLEY STORIES
    Original title: Startupnyc.com.
    Directed by: Thurston Smith.
    Written by: Thurston Smith and Vittoria Frua.
    Featuring: James Marciano (Thesquare.com), John Galbraith (Incogniti.com), Anthony Cospito (Targetsurf.com), Will Hood (formerly of Weekends.com), J.J. Rosen (Run Media), Tim Nilson (Run Media), Claudia Chan (Money.net, iLounge), Courtney Pulitzer.
    Narrated by: Constantine Valhouli.

    Related links: Official site
    "It's obviously the top of the Internet economy," says one giddy partygoer, "because every night I'm invited to a party like this and everybody gets completely hammered and the next day they forget what the hell their business model is. And yet, the money keeps pouring in!"

    Of course, that was before the tech crash of April 2000 — referred to as simply "the 14th" in the instant documentary "Startupnyc.com," which looks at the rise and fall of the Internet startups in the first half of last year. This interesting film chronicles that brief and bizarre period when fresh-faced twentysomethings flocked to New York with little more than fast talk and a domain name and were quickly showered with millions of dollars.

    The film focuses on two companies, one prospering and one floundering. The unhappy story is that of Incogniti.com, which was about to offer stock at the time of the crash and wound up losing investors as the market collapsed. CEO John Galbraith still looks pained as he recalls the experience and hopes his company will be able to pull through.

    The happy story is, unexpectedly, the more interesting of the two. Thesquare.com was started as a more than slightly pretentious Internet community for Ivy League alumni, and it sealed its funding deal on the very day the market began its April slide. And the reason this story is interesting is that the big question in the film is not why one company did badly and the other did well; it's whether the people caught up in this financial whirlwind have any idea what just happened to them.

    What happened, clearly, is that a lot of young people grabbed for Wall Street's golden ring, and some of them reached it and others were a day late and $10 million short. The difference between the 13th and the 15th was the difference between being wealthy for life and being sent back to Biloxi with empty pockets.

    So do the exceptionally lucky executives at Thesquare.com understand that they were just a day away from being Net nobodies? They say so, but I'm not so sure. They've also convinced themselves that they have the big bucks because they're the most deserving. "[Investors] became pickier, so they decided to go with companies that actually had a really strong business model, and that's what happened," says CEO James Marciano.

    Later, he contradicts himself: "It's not really so much about business models as it is really about business, good old plain business. And it's just a matter of sort of putting a better team together than the next guy, executing better than the next guy."

    "Startupnyc.com" doesn't get deeply into motivations or character studies — it's a just-the-facts chronicle of the last year in the Internet industry. But it's certainly interesting to look into the faces of some of the people involved and ask, who is this person in his heart? A visionary who truly wanted to use this new medium to create something great, or a callow opportunist who just wanted to play "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"? There is at least one wide-eyed enthusiast who talks about the excitement of floating an idea and seeing if it succeeds, but everyone else seems focused on the big score, who made it and who missed out.

    JANUARY 14, 2001
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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