Web businesses take a 2nd shot at success

By Michael Liedtke The Associated Press
Friday September 13, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — The Internet digital photo site Webshots seemed destined to dissolve in the dot-com meltdown a year ago as its owner, ExciteAtHome, prepared to go bankrupt. 

But Webshots’ co-founders lobbied for another try at developing the site into a profitable business — a goal that doesn’t look as farfetched as it appeared when ExciteAtHome was poised to pull the plug. 

About 150,000 new users register at Webshots each week, up 50 percent from a year ago. More importantly, a significant number of those users are subscribing to the site’s premium services, an about-face from the carefree days when At Home gave away everything for free. 

“We have a better sense as businessmen what this space is all about now,” said Narendra Rocherolle, one of the three Webshots co-founders who bought the site back from ExciteAtHome eight months ago at pennies on the dollar. 

Redwood City-based Webshots is among a handful of nearly dead Internet businesses trying to reincarnate themselves under new management teams. 

Gone is the giddiness of the bubble years; it’s been replaced by a no-nonsense approach. 

“We’ve put the crack pipe away,” said Chris Kitze, who invested $9 million of his dot-com fortune to revive Wine.com, one of the Web’s biggest busts, with a strategy that mostly promotes the sale of premium wines. 

“It used to be all about getting the ’first mover’ advantage on the Internet. Now that people have become more rational and sane, there is an understanding that it’s all about becoming the last man standing.” 

It’s been an excruciating education for some businesses on the comeback trial. 

To get its second shot, high-speed Internet connections supplier Yipes Enterprise Services went bankrupt in April after burning through nearly $300 million in venture capital. The San Francisco company had approached dozens of suitors to sell out to, but couldn’t find a white knight.