The IT factor
A typically irreverent and slangy Bombay saying goes, "Idea ka paisa hai, baap."
That is exactly what happened at the height of the now-defunct dotcom craze when venture capitalists pumped millions of dollars into online startups based on ideas ranging from the questionable, but promising (selling books), to the genuinely asinine (selling pet food).
During the especially silly period of May 1999 (we all know this thanks to hindsight), a group of twenty-somethings launched govworks.com armed only with passion. And an idea.
The idea was simply to bypass bureaucracy by allowing citizens to deal with local municipalities via the Internet to complete tasks such as paying parking tickets and attending town hall meetings.
Directed by Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim, startup.com, chronicles the whirlwind journey of govworks.com and its founders.
Thanks to Noujaim's close friendship with one of the founders, Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, the directors were given virtually unlimited access. For 18 months, the camera followed Kaleil and his cohorts -- capturing everything from meetings with venture capitalists to private moments of introspection and the shifting dynamics of business and personal relationships.
One is not quite sure what to expect in the first 15 minutes of the film. The directors would have done well to eschew the 60 minutes-style photography of extreme close-ups. But the proceedings turn fascinating as these would-be entrepreneurs struggle to meet the needs of a rapidly growing business with the demands of families and girlfriends.
Arrogant and exasperated, CEO Kaleil imposes both literally and figuratively. He is the polar opposite of co-founder and best friend, Tom Herman. Tom is low-key and introspective. Kaleil, wide grins and broad shoulders, seems determined to carry govworks.com to the promised land of an IPO if by nothing else then by the sheer wattage of his charisma and dogged determination.
He makes the rounds of financial talk shows and addresses a political panel while he is seated next to President Clinton. But govworks.com faces several hurdles: the executive team realises that their offering does not measure up to the competitor's. And then, their offices are broken into and key data is stolen.
Of course, no setback was greater than when the harsh realities of the real world sink the tech sector without so much as a 'Press Ctrl-Alt-Del' warning.
While startup.com captures, from the inside, a brief moment in time when greed and naiveté converged, it is also the tale of childhood friends, Tom and Kaleil. It is about their differing vision for the business and how it tests and ultimately frays the bonds of their friendship.
Don't let the documentary tag fool you. Sure, there is no pre-written script or any Hollywood stars here, but startup.com is filled with poignant and amusing moments.
In a company gathering, a board member convincingly intones, "We're going to make a lot of money." For a moment, a hushed silence falls over the starry-eyed employees as if they don't want to jinx things. But later, they give in and break out into a nervous, giddily optimistic laugh.
In another scene, Tom cracks as his friendship with Kaleil reaches the breaking point and they turn increasingly antagonistic toward each other.
startup.com highlights the pitfalls of mixing business with friendship. It also reminds those who got sucked into the mania, that even the IT sector was not immune to the grim business fact taught in every introductory economics course: Ninety percent of all new businesses fail.