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The ServInt Source

What We Can Learn from a Sock Puppet

Pets.com Dog

The Departed Pets.com Dog

Web 2.0 brought a lot of newness to the tech world.  The concept of user-generated content and social integration helped fuel the rise of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter among many other sites. It’s made running a business on the web a lot more lucrative, but also, in many cases, much more expensive and complicated.

There are great examples out there. Twitter and YouTube have yet to make any money and old-web portals like Yahoo and AOL are having to completely reassess what their vision and corporate identity is and should be. Small, innovative companies that were funded entirely with venture capital are beginning to go the way of the dodo. Many of these companies are purchased for their talent and then liquidated or halfheartedly Open Sourced with few overarching goals other than to push the responsibility of maintaining the code away from salaried staff.  I’m looking at you Pownce and Jaiku.

If this is starting to sound familiar, it should.

Remember Pets.com and it’s sock puppet mascot? Voiced by The State alum Michael Ian Black, the Pets.com dog became an overnight pop culture icon with his own Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float and a very public (not to mention very NSFW) spat with Robert Smigel’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Pets.com had a great idea, a great public presence, and a terrific site.

What it didn’t have was a business plan. Less than a year after opening to the public, Pets.com disappeared with the dot.com bust in December 2000. It’s iconic, fluffy mascot was purchased by a holding company and is now used to sell sub-prime car loans.

There’s a lot to learn here. Using our industry as an example, there are dozens if not hundreds of hosting companies out there that are banking on the exact same failed strategy. Many of our newest, greenest competitors are gorging themselves with buzzword-driven venture funding, spending ridiculous amounts of cash on advertising products and services that they simply can’t sustain.

The offers are alluring, but at the end of the day these companies are playing with their customer’s data, their livelihoods. There are hosting companies that advertise overclocked CPU’s on a server…for what? So people can play Crysis on a VPS? Overclocking a processor doesn’t necessarily overclock your bottom-line and it’s the successful hosts out there that know how important staying true to that responsibility is.

ServInt has first-hand knowledge of this. During the period some refer to as the ‘dot com crash’ our company was brought to its knees due to a combination of competitive ambition and our own loss of focus. We started spending a lot of time and energy on side projects like building a massive and costly Content Distribution Network (CDN) which, while ahead of its time, proved to be too premature in a time without YouTube and Podcasts.

At the same time we expanded into other areas of Internet commerce like DSL connections. These projects proved to be distractions from what made us so successful
in the first place. From day one, ServInt offered Enterprise level hosting, and great support to go along with it. Everything we did should have been towards furthering that goal. ServInt learned that lesson the hard way, and in 2001 we filed to restructure under a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

That might sound sad, but in reality it was the best thing that ever happened to us. In the 8 years since, we have nurtured a reputation as one of if not the best Managed VPS host in the world. We have the advantage of knowing first hand what does and doesn’t work, and we NEVER risk our customer’s data and businesses by investing in frivolous products that are unnecessarily risky, expensive, and frankly silly.

The same goes for any business, you have to work ON it, not IN it, to be successful. If that had happened, perhaps Pets.com would still be around.

As far as I know, pets still can’t drive.

Photo used and altered under Creative Commons License, courtesy of flickr user TransplantedVTer

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