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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 12:51 GMT
Boo's journey to failure
Kajsa Leander and Ernst Malmsten, founders of the failed Boo.com
Leander and Malmsten failed to achieve their dreams
by BBC News Online's Emma Clark

"All these people trusted me and now I have failed them. What have I done? How could things have gone so wrong?"

These are the words of a desperate man who has realised that his time is up.

They occur a few pages into a new book by Ernst Malmsten on the collapse of the infamous sports and high-fashion e-tailer, Boo.com.

"Boo Hoo: a dot.com story from concept to catastrophe" is Mr Malmsten's attempt to put the record straight.

The collapse of the company, which was founded by Mr Malmsten and his photogenic business partner, Kajsa Leander, came to epitomise the excesses of the dot.com era.

A press release promoting the book grandly describes Boo.com as "the first major casualty of the internet age" - and for many it was.

Taking the blame

Although Mr Malmsten willingly takes responsibility for the dramatic demise of boo.com, he is also keen to counter the criticism that he and Ms Leander have faced.

Boo.com web site
The sportswear site caught investors' imagination

In recent interviews to publicise the book, he has talked of how he lacked the strong hand of a chairman to guide him through the corporate quagmire.

Equally, Ms Leander has commented - with no hint of irony - that she only travelled by Concorde when it was on special offer.

However, Mr Malmsten's comments in the book that "after the pampered luxury of a Lear jet 35, Concorde was a bit cramped" are unlikely to dispel the couple's image as high-spending and irresponsible.

Cash burn

Over the course of two years, the company managed to burn through $130m of investors' money, as well a substantial amount of the founders' savings.

Ernst Malmsten
Ernst Malmsten felt guilty about the wasted money

In between bouts of guilt, Mr Malmsten's tale captures the hype and the excitement of developing what was seen by many as a ground-breaking company with state-of-the-art technology.

Co-written with Erik Potanger, a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, the book is clearly intended as a testimony to the energetic team that struggled to build Boo.com into a working enterprise.

Along the way, it tells of endless rounds of raising finance, glamorous parties, staff clashes and bitter sparring with the press.

A personal account

The book is very much a personal account and begins with a meeting between Mr Malmsten and Ms Leander outside a Parisian club.


It quickly became obvious that we made a great team. While I possessed unflagging enthusiasm and persistence, Kajsa had a sense of style that I sorely lacked

Boo Hoo excerpt
The two had been at the same kindergarten in Sweden and briefly at the same high school, before bumping into each other again in Paris as twenty-somethings.

"It quickly became obvious that we made a great team. While I possessed unflagging enthusiasm and persistence, Kajsa had a sense of style that I sorely lacked," Mr Malmsten wrote shortly after their reunion.

This self-belief and later a passionate commitment to Boo.com see the two battling to develop their "brand" and win more money to keep the venture afloat.

Collapse

Despite backing from Bernard Arnault, the chairman of luxury group LVMH, investment bank JP Morgan and enthusiastic Middle Eastern investors who saw Boo as the next Amazon.com, the company collapsed on 18 May 2000.

Ambitious plans to make Boo a top-grade global e-tailer had already been scaled down, but a last-minute bid to find yet more funding failed and sealed its fate.

Over-ambition is a recurring theme in the book. Even after the website finally launched, following months of expensive delay, there is a sense of anti-climax.

"We should have felt wonderful, and we did, at first," says the book.

"But once the effects of the champagne wore off and everyone had slowly returned to their desks, a heaviness began to settle over the office."

Hyped forecasts

In a typical example of internet hype, Mr Malmsten recalls how initial forecasts were not met.


By the first afternoon when the first statistics came in, we knew the figure of a million [that] some people had talked about was a complete fantasy

Boo Hoo excerpt
"There were plenty of visitors to the site, but not the tidal wave of traffic that we had expected.

"By the first afternoon when the first statistics came in, we knew the figure of a million [that] some people had talked about was a complete fantasy."

This combination of naiveté and hapless optimism was characteristic of many dot.com ventures.

Boo's technical equipment was sold on to another UK internet venture, while its brand and website address were snapped up by a US fashion retailer.

Failure?

Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's internet and business correspondent, attributes Boo's failure to a host of reasons.

In his recent book "Dot.bomb", he refers to managerial incompetence and a profligate culture at the company.

But he also reports that many believed "Boo was just beginning to prove itself and if it had been given a few more months it would have fulfilled its promises".

It is too late now to prove the validity of such hopes, and the founders are keen to move on. For Mr Malmsten, the exercise of writing the book was "a sort of therapy".

For others reading the book, it will be a colourful account of dot.com hubris, youthful enthusiasm and a doomed struggle to give the Boo start-up its wings.

Boo Hoo: a dot.com story from concept to catastrophe will be published on 1 November by Random House.

See also:

12 Oct 00 | Business
Prudence rules at new Boo
30 May 00 | Business
Buyer for Boo.com technology
18 May 00 | Business
My bout with Boo.com
18 May 00 | Business
Top web retailer collapses
18 May 00 | Business
From Boo.com to Boo.gone
15 May 00 | Business
Money worries for web retailer
25 Jan 00 | Business
Boo.com axes staff
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