Where Are They Now? Dot-Com CEOs

Much has been written about the iconic American brands that have recently left the corporate landscape. Names like the bankrupt Circuit City and the nowhere-to-be-found Pontiac are casualties of the Great Recession, and there are most likely more to come. But every downturn means the end of the road for certain companies. Just a few years ago, brands like Kozmo, Flooz and Pets.com were going to change the way we all shop. So what happened to the CEOs of those dot-com casualties? We caught up with a few of them.

1. Jared Polis: BlueMountainArts.com

Artist Stephen Schutz and poet Susan Polis Schutz had been running greeting card company Blue Mountain Arts for several decades before their son took the business online and co-founded bluemountainarts.com. But Jared really caught the attention of the e-business world when he sold the company to Excite@Home in a deal worth $780 million. (Later, Excite sold the company for $200 million.) In 1998, he launched ProFlowers.com, a web company selling flowers direct from growers to consumers, which expanded to become Provide Commerce, which was then acquired by Liberty Media Corporation. In 2006, he founded Techstars, a seed incubator for web startups, and in November 2008, Mr. Polis was elected to the United States Congress to represent the second Congressional district of Colorado. Today, Fortune estimates his personal wealth at $160 million.

2. Joseph Park and Yong Kang: Kozmo.com

Remember when you could get a pint of Cherry Garcia, a Snickers and the New York Times delivered at 2:00am? Those were the days. And that's also the reason Kozmo is no more. The company's unsustainable business model promised free delivery of anything, in under an hour. And they lost money on every delivery. The two founders, Joseph Park and Yong Kang, took different paths after they closed shop. Park went to Harvard Business School and is now running Askville, a community site operated by Amazon.com. As for Yong Kang, he returned to Wall Street, and as of May 2008 listed his occupation as investment banking at Lehman Brothers. Rough decade.

3. Greg McLemore: Pets.com

pets-com.jpg
Before the dot-com bubble burst, there were about a half-dozen pet supply sites on the web, all getting ridiculous amounts of venture capital money (that should've been our first clue). After Pets.com went bankrupt in 2000, CEO Greg McLemore went on to create other start-ups. According to his LinkedIn page, he started stock footage company eFootage in 2003 and DataRefinery (a company developing a set of web based software tools) in 2006. He also hopes to sleep sometime around 2012, but that's subject to change.

4. Ernst Malmsten and Kajsa Leander: Boo.com

Boo.com was the brainchild of Ernst Malmsten, a poetry critic, and Kajsa Leander, a former Vogue model, who grew up together in Sweden. In the 90s, they wanted to create a website where the most fashionable people would buy their clothes, and before they had sold a single item, Fortune magazine had christened them "one of Europe's coolest companies." After the highly publicized launch, it took all of 18 months for the company to burn through $135 million in venture capital before closing down in May of 2000. Now, Kajsa Leander lives in Venice with her husband, raising their three children, and Ernst Malmsten runs a London-based agency that represents architects, fashion designers, graphic designers and other creative types. He also wrote a book about the experience called Boo Hoo: a Dot.com Story. As for Boo.com, it's now a travel website with user-generated reviews...no sign of Miss Boo anywhere, though.

5. Robert Levitan: Flooz.com

flooz.jpgFlooz was the Whoppi Goldberg-promoted site that offered redeemable credits when consumers purchased specific products. A lack of interest and a little fraud (apparently, parties within the Russian mafia were using Flooz as a money laundering vehicle) forced the company to shut down in 2001. As for the CEO, Robert Levitan (who had previously founded iVillage) went on to create Yearlook Enterprises and Pando Networks, a company that provides peer-assisted content delivery. These dot-com guys are quite the overachievers, aren't they?

6. Josh Harris: Pseudo.com

Josh Harris was one of the most interesting characters of the web 1.0 days. The founder of both Jupiter Communications and Pseudo.com (a live audio and video webcasting website), Harris became notorious for his six-month, $600,000 project "We Live In Public," a Big Brother type concept in which he placed more than 100 artists in a New York City human terrarium, capturing every move the artists made. After Pseudo.com filed for bankruptcy in 2000, Harris literally bought the farm: a 153-acre apple orchard in New York, which he sold in 2006. These days, Mr. Harris is the CEO of the African Entertainment Network based in Sidamo, Ethiopia. I'm sure he's capturing the entire experience on video.

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iStock
The Popcorn Company That's Creating Jobs for Adults With Autism
iStock
iStock

A New Jersey-based gourmet popcorn company is dedicating its profits to creating new employment “popportunities” for adults on the autism spectrum, A Plus reports.

Popcorn for the People, founded by Rutgers University professor Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier and her husband, radiologist Dr. Steven Bier, is a nonprofit subsidiary of the couple's charitable organization Let’s Work For Good, which focuses on "creating meaningful and lasting employment for adults with autism and developmental disabilities." Recognizing the lack of skilled employment options for adults with developmental disabilities, the Biers decided to create jobs themselves through this popcorn venture, with all of the profits going to their charitable organization. According to the site, every tin of popcorn purchased "provides at least an hour of meaningful employment" to adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, who perform jobs like making popcorn, labeling products, and marketing.

The couple developed the idea for the business and the nonprofit in 2015 when their son, Sam, grew tired of his job at a grocery store. Sam, 27, is on the autism spectrum, and after six years of working as a “cart guy,” he decided he was ready to try something new. Employment opportunities were scarce, though. Jobs that provided enough resources for someone on the spectrum tended to consist of menial work, and more skilled positions involved a tough interview process.

“Some companies mean well, but they are limited in what they can offer,” Steven Bier told TAP Into East Brunswick in 2015.

Unemployment rates are especially high among adults with autism. Last year, Drexel University reported that only 14 percent of autistic adults who use state-funded disability services are employed in paid work positions. And while high-functioning autistic adults are often perfectly capable of working in technical careers, the actual process of getting hired can be challenging. People with autism tend to struggle with understanding nuance and social conventions, which makes the interviewing process particularly difficult.

Enter the Biers' popcorn business. What began in 2015 as the Pop-In Cafe (which still sells popcorn and deli items at its New Jersey location) now distributes flavored popcorn all over the world. In three years, the organization has gone from a staff of four, with one employee on the autism spectrum, to a staff of 50, nearly half of whom are on the spectrum. In July, the organization plans to expand to a larger production facility in order to keep up with demand.

The company provides an environment for employees to learn both hard skills, like food preparation and money management, and what the company describes as “watercooler life skills.”

"There just aren't many programs that teach these sorts of things in a real-world environment, with all that entails," Bier told My Central Jersey. "These are skills that the kids can use here, and elsewhere."

According to A Plus, you can now buy Popcorn for the People in person at locations like the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and the Lyric Theatre in Times Square. The organization sells 12 flavors of popcorn (including cookies and cream, Buffalo wing, and French toast), all created by Agnes Cushing-Ruby, a chef who donates 40 hours a week to the company.

“I never thought that the little pop-up shop would grow into this,” Sam told A Plus. “It makes me so happy to see we have helped so many people.”

[h/t A Plus]

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IHOb Restaurants
10 Strange Publicity Stunts by Major Food Brands
IHOb Restaurants
IHOb Restaurants

Celebrities have always loved doing crazy things for press—but these days, even corporations will go to extreme lengths to get the word out about their products. Case in point: IHOP's recent attempt to create a little mystery, and sell some burgers, as IHOb. Below you’ll find 10 of the weirdest stunts done to promote mass-produced food items.

1. COLONEL SANDERS RAPPELS DOWN A HIGH-RISE

It’s hard to imagine KFC’s elderly Colonel Sanders doing much outside of eating and talking about his “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken. But in 2011, a man dressed as the Colonel strapped on a harness and rappelled down Chicago’s River Bend building. The Colonel didn't stop at rappelling down the 40-story building; he also handed out $5 everyday meals to window washers. What was KFC’s concept behind this dangerous promotion? They wanted to show the world they were taking lunch to “new heights.”

2. THE WORLD'S LARGEST POPSICLE

Sometimes being the biggest doesn’t mean you’re the best. In 2005, Snapple wanted to make the world’s largest Popsicle to promote their new line of frozen treats. Their plan was to display a 25-foot-tall, 17.5-ton treat of frozen Snapple juice in New York City’s Union Square. However, their plan ended in a sticky disaster. The day Snapple tried to present the Popsicle, New York was experiencing warmer than expected temperatures. The pop melted so quickly that a river of sticky sludge took over several streets. In a city already congested by traffic and tourists, this made Snapple enemy No. 1 that day to the people of New York City.

3. COFFEE CUPS ON CAR ROOFS = FREE COUPONS

A cup of Starbucks coffee
Wikimedia Commons

Starbucks believes in rewarding those who embrace the holiday spirit. In 2005, the Seattle-based coffee giant developed a campaign by which brand ambassadors drove around with replicas of Vente Starbucks cups affixed to their car roofs. If anyone stopped the ambassador to warn them about the coffee cup on their roof, that person received a $5 gift card to Starbucks. Starbucks wanted the world to know being a good samaritan really can pay!

4. MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Imagine walking the beach and finding a sealed bottle of Guinness. But instead of finding beer inside, you find a note from King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. In 1959, that happened to people along North America’s Atlantic coast. Guinness wanted to build brand awareness in the area, so they dropped 150,000 sealed Guinness bottles into the ocean. The bottle contained Neptune’s scroll announcing the House of Guinness’s Bi-Centenary as well as a document instructing the reader on how to make a Guinness bottle into a table lamp. While no one got a free beer (boo!), they did walk away with an arts and crafts project.

5. EAU DE FLAME-BROILED

Who can resist the smell of flame-broiled burgers? The answer is most people—at least when it comes in the form of a body spray. Burger King’s 2008 campaign promoting the “scent of seduction” may be one of the weirdest ideas on this list. The fast-food company thought they could capture the world’s attention by creating and advertising a meat-scented cologne called FLAME by BK. Though select New York City stores actually sold the scent, all of this was a tongue-in-cheek campaign to make the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic laugh.

6. HERE COMES THE SUN

London commuters experienced an unexpectedly bright morning during January 2012. Tropicana worked with the art collective Greyworld to create a fake sun promoting their “Brighter Morning” campaign. The "sun," made up of more than 60,000 light bulbs, rose over Trafalgar Square at 6:51 a.m. on a particularly chilly morning. The sun set at 7:33 p.m. Tropicana continued to promote their sun day, fun day by having Londoners sit under the sun with branded sunglasses, deck chairs, and blankets. 

7. AIRPORT STEAK DELIVERY

Some of the craziest publicity stunts can’t be planned. We live in a world of 24/7 social media, and when the Twitterverse gave Morton’s Steakhouse an opportunity, they seized upon it. Before flying from Tampa to Newark, Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur and author, jokingly tweeted at Morton's Steakhouse that he wanted a porterhouse steak to be waiting for him when he landed. As Shankman was a frequent diner and social media influencer, Morton's Steakhouse saw the opportunity to start a conversation—and they went for it: When Shankman touched down in Newark, he was greeted by his car service driver and a Morton’s deliveryman. If only all travelers could experience that happiness in an airport.

8. BUYING THE LIBERTY BELL

April Fools Day gags can be great for brands … or an embarrassment. In 1996, Taco Bell took out an ad in The New York Times saying they bought Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. The ad also informed people of the bell’s new name: "Taco Liberty Bell." Back in the mid-1990s, people couldn’t go on Twitter or Facebook to find out the truth. Instead, they wrote the publication voicing their outrage. The hoax may have worked in getting press coverage (650 print publications and 400 broadcast media outlets publicized the joke), but what does that say about your brand when people actually believe you would rename a historic monument for your own gain?

9. CREATING THE LARGEST MAN-MADE FIRE


Wikimedia Commons

In 2011, the Costa-Mesa based chain El Pollo Loco sent out press releases saying they planned to create the world’s largest man-made fire. Why would they create a fire? El Pollo Loco needed to get the word out about their new flame-grilled chicken. Spectators attending the event were shocked to see that this stunt was actually a commercial shoot for the brand. The chain says they really did attempt to break the record. But many publications have stated the whole promotion was a fraud. Note to brands: When trying to pull off a publicity stunt and a commercial simultaneously, tell everyone your plan in advance.

10. KFC IN SPACE

KFC may just be the king of wild publicity stunts. In 2006, the company created an 87,500-square-foot logo at Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada. The company wanted to be the first brand visible from space. And it was no coincidence they picked a spot near “The World’s Only Extraterrestrial Highway.”

“If there are extraterrestrials in outer space, KFC wants to become their restaurant of choice,” said Gregg Dedrick, former president of KFC Corp. The world is not enough for KFC. They need the entire universe hooked on their Original Recipe.

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