Boo.com Goes Bankrupt – 2000

The dotcom frenzy reached its zenith around the millennium. At every stage of its explosive development and violent decline, its standard-bearer was Boo.com, the European online sports and high-fashion ‘e-tailer’. From its conception in 1998, Boo had value-added glamour in the form of its founders, a Swedish poetry critic and a former Vogue model. They parlayed their youth, their previous experience of running an online bookshop, and their innate style into £80 million of backing from the most prestigious sources in the USA and Europe.

To the envy of potential rivals, their investors included J P Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Benetton and Bernard Arnault of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy); but instead of funding a staff of 30 and a suitably corporate mindset, the money evaporated in demonstrations of the cachet and chic they were supposed to be selling. They used Concorde like a bus (though by their own later account ‘after the pampered luxury of a Learjet 35, Concorde was a bit cramped’) and redefined ‘partying’ as a fundraising mechanism. They opened for business a year late, with 400 staff in eight offices round the globe, waiting. Before they sold a single thing, Fortune magazine described Boo.com as Europe’s coolest company. Its reputation turned out to be its epitaph.

Within six months, the dotcom boom was over as venture capitalists realized technology had outstripped consumers’ awareness of, and familiarity with it. Buying online was too new, and too slow. The banks were closed, even for high fliers like Lastminute.com. Boo’s ‘passion’ built a brilliant internet edifice which very few customers understood how to use properly. The company did too much too soon – and did it with such champagne-fueled gusto that nobody noticed the achievement behind the hangover. If go you must, then what a way to go.

When: May 18 2000

Where: London, UK

Toll: Boo.com’s high-profile bankruptcy attracted unfair censure during the tech-stock crash of 2000. The other dotcom ventures would have failed anyway. However, it did real damage to perceptions of European internet start-ups, and US internet giants colonized the resulting vacuum – just in time to take full advantage of the huge increase in domestic broadband availability that would have given wings to Boo.com’s original plans.

You should know: when the BBC referred to Boo.com’s ‘all-singing, all-dancing website’, it surely included one of its most delightful features. The site had an online hostess and personal shopper called ‘Miss Boo’, a compelling character who very much resembled a pixelated version of Boo’s co-founder, the former vogue model Kajsa Leander. It is said that ‘Miss Boo’ was responsible for much of the euphoria with which users responded to the internet site.

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