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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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I’ve used Kevin Maney’s columns in USA Today to illustrate points twice before, but his recent one about Louis Borders is of a different piece. He always writes with a morale at the end of the column, but this one seems a bit more sensitive.

Louis Borders was one of the Borders brothers that started the book chain of the same name that was eventually bought by Kmart and made nearly ubiquitous. What you may not remember was his next venture. Well, you’ll remember it because it was such a spectacular and ominous failure, but you probably don’t know of his involvement in it. I’m speaking of WebVan, for those of you who didn’t immediately click to Maney’s column.

WebVan is frequently cited as the quintessential Internet start-up of the late nineties, but it’s flame-out wasn’t really for extravagance (except maybe of concept) but more of a capital-intensive operation whose profit potential was enormous but long-term. It was much like Amazon, but didn’t get into the game as early as Amazon did. His original conception of the company was even more ambitious than what the venture capitalists funded.

The man thinks big. I like that. As the lead venture capitalist for WebVan said (and was quoted by Maney), “Go big or go home.” Unfortunately, it’s led me to go home more often than it’s made be “go big” but it’s a good credo.