The 1990s were known for more than the unkempt grunge look in fashion. The dotcom boom reigned supreme as well. Even though dotcommers seemed to take pride in their lack of fashion sense and innovation in the pervasive hoodie and jeans combinations they preferred, this era delivered some of the greatest technology innovations that changed how we see the world. The hype about the eventual bubble overshadowed the fact that Amazon would one day give Microsoft a run for its money.
The problem with the dotcom boom – and why the bubble burst – is that the ambitions outpaced the enabling technologies at the time. The underlying infrastructure had not yet caught up with the tremendous ideas and innovations coming out of Silicon Valley and beyond. Great ideas for eCommerce websites, applications, and enterprise tools abounded, but those great ideas often got bogged down in the delivery over insufficient networks.
Those who lived through the dotcom boom may remember at the very beginning, nobody quite knew what was going on and nobody had yet uttered the phrase “dotcom boom,” but those in the know understood something big was about to happen and they wanted in. Today we’re on the verge of another such wave of cloud-driven innovation – the dotcloud boom, defined as the emergence of a new class of born-in-the-cloud companies which are driven by an imperative for speed, convenience and personalization on the part of the consumer, and which are built on as-a-service infrastructure tools that allow a more agile startup cycle with low initial capital requirements.
New tools to boilerplate innovation
The first eCommerce entrepreneurs faced an uphill battle in building their mostly static websites with only basic transactional capabilities from scratch, and running them over a slow Internet. Early innovators built their websites from the ground up, and served them up at great expense from their own data centers which had to be managed with their own staff 24×7. Today’s online entrepreneurs load up a WordPress template and pay ten dollars a month for a hosting account and it’s done. The infrastructure components that consumed startup entrepreneurs’ worried thoughts at night today have been moved off-site, and are managed by a third-party provider.
The dotcloud boom is marked by innovations that give online entrepreneurs an edge in a speedy download – an essential component, given that online shoppers will begin to abandon a site if it takes more than just three or four seconds to download. And the good news is that they don’t have to build out those enhancement tools from the ground up, as they would have had to do in the ‘90s – simple but powerful innovations like content delivery networks and website prioritization tools are available as-a-service, a reality that gives lesser-funded startups an equal seat at the table.
Even the creation of app development – once the domain of frantic coders guzzling energy drinks and commanding six-figure salaries – can now be done effectively with a platform-as-a-service. “The as-a-service model today delivers more than just software and infrastructure,” said Cary Landis, President of SaaSMaker and co-author of Dotcloud Boom: How born-in-the-cloud entrepreneurs are shaking up the world’s biggest tech companies and creating the next generation of startup millionaires. “Unlike the old dotcom days, today’s entrepreneurs are building big businesses in the cloud on their credit cards, without the tremendous burden of having to code everything from scratch and manage a cumbersome infrastructure. This is the realization of the promises offered, but never realized, during the boom of the nineties, and will form the foundation of an entirely new wave of entrepreneurial opportunities and new startups.”
The Dotcloud brings personalization to ecommerce
Many of the most deeply-funded ecommerce companies that appeared and disappeared so quickly during the dotcom boom failed to offer the same level of personalization as brick-and-mortar shopping.
“During the nineties, online shopping was a solitary experience,” said Roman Kowalski, veteran dotcommer and current Vice President of Marketing at TravelGearLab.com. “You looked at a flat picture of a product, read the description, and navigated your way through the checkout menu. Everybody wanted to sell online, but so many failed at it because it just wasn’t that much fun for consumers.”
Where Baby Boomers in the nineties may have been dazzled by the novelty of simply being able to purchase something online, Millennials today take buying online for granted, and have a higher standard. They want to be informed as well as entertained, and they expect a deeper level of engagement with ecommerce vendors who anticipate their every need.
“We all thought that we were in a new age of innovation during the dotcom boom,” said Kowalski. “But that age is just now beginning, and it’s going to change the world.”
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Dan Blacharski is senior contributing analyst at Compass Intelligence, a market acceleration research and consulting firm; and the founder and senior PR counsel at Ugly Dog Media, a thought leadership, and public relations consultancy. Follow @Dan_Blacharski