REALITY CHECK: Oh, yeah? Try putting a traditional business on-line
Anderson: The details in technology can clearly shut you down. We're seeing that in our distance-learning efforts here at Babson. You'd think it would be very simple to prepare course materials that you've been using electronically for years and send them out via the Web. You quickly find out that customers have all different types of machines out there.
Cramer: A lot of the technology out there doesn't work well. Nobody admits it, because no one wants to tarnish the gloss that's on the Web. Technology problems almost demolished us a dozen times. The first Internet service provider that we worked with was really bad. It was as if it was under contract with my personal enemies or with women whom I'd crossed before I got married. With the second, it was like these people were put on earth to destroy my business.
Hazard: The real key to success is in improving the Web site over time. It's really about having a feel for usage patterns -- where people are spending time, where they're getting stuck -- and incorporating it into the design capabilities to allow you to go from generation one to five in a year.
Johnson: It's easy to build a bad Web site, harder to build a good one. The greater difficulties are in making a site easy for customers to use and in minimizing the number of clicks. The best example is Amazon's one-click purchasing. It's a pleasure to use after buying on a site that takes four, five, or six clicks to make a purchase.
Peabody: At Tripod we struggled enormously, but that was because there was no off-the-shelf technology at the time. Today there's so much more to buy. Of course, if you have a 30-year-old company with a special database, I wouldn't be able to begin to tell you what to do. I'm sure there's a lot of integrating that goes on.
To help us deconstruct the myths of the Web, we turned to expert observers of the Internet phenomenon. Their comments can be found after each of the case studies we presented. Here are their credentials:
Martin Anderson, management professor at Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass., advises executives who are transforming their traditional companies into "click and mortar" businesses.
James J. Cramer is the brash cofounder of and columnist at TheStreet.com. He has built successful careers as both a journalist/pundit and a hedge-fund manager.
Kathleen Eisenhardt is a professor specializing in competitive strategy at Stanford's School of Engineering. She recently coauthored Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos.
Chip Hazard is a general partner and E-commerce specialist at the venture powerhouse Greylock, in Boston. He helped launch the e-Steel exchange.
Tod Johnson, chairman and CEO of Media Metrix Inc., based in New York City, is a widely recognized expert on brand loyalty.
Ted Leonsis is president of AOL Interactive Properties Group. In his first three years at America Online (starting in 1994), it grew from about $100 million in revenues to $1.5 billion.
Kelly Mooney is director of intelligence at Resource Marketing Inc., a technology-marketing firm in Columbus, Ohio. She has helped companies such as Victoria's Secret develop their on-line strategies.
Allen Morgan is a general partner at Mayfield Fund, in Menlo Park, Calif. He has been involved in more than 350 venture-capital investments and public offerings.
Bo Peabody is a cofounder of Tripod Inc. and vice-president of network strategy at Lycos Inc. When he was still in college, Peabody founded Tripod, which helps people build their own home pages. In 1998 he sold the company to Lycos.
Scott Randall is founder and CEO of Internet-auction hosting service FairMarket Inc. Randall has been involved in E-commerce since 1995, when he launched an on-line store. He has been president of the Internet Shopping Network and Yahoo Marketplace.
David Rich is vice-president of marketing and brand guru at Bigstep.com, which provides on-line services to small businesses. He previously orchestrated brand campaigns for Walt Disney, Pepsi, and Jamba Juice.