PERSPECTIVE: The net can create as many losers as it can millionaires

If I see another list of internet millionaires, I think I will crack.

If I see another list of internet millionaires, I think I will

crack.



How many of these damn reports can one be exposed to before serious

feelings of inadequacy and penury set in? In the world of the

e-entrepreneur, making a million is barely enough to register on the

radar. Then there’s that dawning recognition that, since many of these

creatures are several years younger than me, not only am I getting old

but perhaps I’ve also missed my main chance.



Now The Guardian’s at it with a three-part series this week on the 50

net pioneers who have transformed the face of British business. Between

them, this bunch of e-magnates have amassed a tidy pounds 1.3 billion,

and that’s in little more than four years.



Reading these lists is a bit like picking a scab: it’s probably going to

hurt but you can’t help wanting to see what’s underneath.



And it’s all the more painful if you work in media, because there’s a

fair chance you will have come across some of these people and remember

politely, but blankly, nodding when they enthused about their

sports/travel site. Now it seems they’re made for life.



One erstwhile drinking partner of mine who used to bore me silly with

updates on his internet thingy now has pounds 10 million under his belt,

though admittedly many of these e-fortunes are nominal until the

founders sell out.



I have, however, found several antidotes to the envious drooling

inspired by lists like The Guardian’s. For a bit of real world logic,

I’d recommend taking a look at Freeserve’s maiden results.



In the 16 weeks to 21 August, the internet service provider saw its

operating losses grow by 600 per cent to pounds 5.23 million and its

share price has wobbled. OK, the company also saw revenues up by 100 per

cent to pounds 3.38 million, but sure-fire internet profits are not

quite as guaranteed as all those lists of internet millionaires might

suggest.



As more of us are realising that there is money to be made on the net,

competition is beginning to run amok. The internet auction service, QXL,

has seen its value slashed in half in a matter of months because of

increased competition. The internet is, simply, still a risk.



Success, despite the hype, is not guaranteed and there will,

undoubtedly, be expensive and embarrassing failures. The press’s

obsession with the youthful contingent of the web millionaire’s club

(the ’I designed this in my bedroom when I should have been doing my

homework’ brigade) is also misleading. Most of the country’s internet

tycoons have already made their fortunes from rather more conventional

businesses.



New-media players launching on the web with ready-made brand franchises,

long-term experience of their target consumers and an existing business

base outside the net may hardly be the stuff of racy make-a-million

newspaper reports, but they represent less of a lottery.



claire.beale@haynet.com



Have your say at www.campaignlive.com on channel 4.



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