To the Participants
The characters in our story, by themselves, are unworthy of the time and attention we have given them. But collectively, their interactions tell an incredible story, an incredibly important story. It was not our intention to embarrass or glamorize anyone. We merely felt compelled to reveal the qualities and organizational behaviors that work together to build things of value and to expose the character and characteristics of those that destroy. While our story is exhilarating and debilitating, entertaining and enlightening, it is principally a cautionary tale. We want others to benefit from our successes and learn from our mistakes.
Yet for those who actually worked for, invested in, or were otherwise involved with Value America, our cast of characters may be more important than the message we are trying to convey. In that we wish no one any undue harm, a thorough explanation of the methods we used to compose this story may be helpful.
We have endeavored to distil twenty years of business encounters into a dozen hours of reading. This has required us to pick amongst many relevant events. We have simply chosen to cover those things we believed were the most germane. Often we have coalesced several meetings into one and then condensed the dialog so that the salient portions can be digested in a few minutes rather than over the course of many hours. For example, the dialog in the final chapter occurred, but not in the abbreviated twenty minute slice of time in which it is depicted.
We have also elected to present similar material together. For example, surviving our early days in an Attic in Charlottesville, building the store’s technology, selling consumer brands on our merits, and raising venture capital occurred simultaneously. Yet we cover these subjects in successive chapters. We believe that this makes the story easier to read.
This work was thoroughly researched. We collected, read, and evaluated tens of thousands of pages of documentation. We conducted hundreds of hours of recorded interviews of eyewitness accounts. We were participants. In fact, as the five founders, we are the central characters. No one knows more about these events than we do. We have done our utmost to present this incredible tale as accurately as possible. We have not knowingly altered any material fact or conveyed anything of consequence we didn’t believe to be true, or at least to be in character.
We have included excerpts from a substantial quantity of documents, speeches, letters, and articles. These are never quoted in their entirety. Sometimes they are even edited slightly to make for easier reading. They are particularly important to our story. Without them, our tale would be unbelievable. Stranger than fiction.
But speaking of fiction, all of the dialog is reconstructed. We did not record these events as they occurred so we have had to rely on our collective memories. Often we have found excellent source material that gives us great confidence that some of the words we have written were actually said. Other times there were multiple participants with common recollections. Yet on occasion we have simply written what we think may have been said based solely upon the undeniable results of what actually happened.
Most importantly, we can only speculate as to the motivations of our characters, both good and bad. Their thoughts and rationale are only for them to know. Many may not even know today why they acted as they did. Therefore, anytime we assert a motive or thoughts to a character we have traveled into the world of opinion. And ultimately, that is all any of us have—opinions and perspectives. These are ours. Many of our characters have gone out of their way to express theirs publicly. Theirs often differ radically with ours. When appropriate, we have included their varying viewpoints. Sometimes our characters impale themselves on their own words. We have endeavored not to do so with ours.
Our narrator is a real person, one of the five founders, and co-author Ken Power. Therefore, unlike most narrators ours is neither omnipresent, nor omniscient. As narrator Ken is fallible, opinionated, and emotional. He is also witty, wise, grounded, and of good character. These characteristics help translate Craig Winn’s sometimes lofty ideals, and, on occasion, brilliant thoughts into more comfortable and approachable words. In addition, we believe the events that lead to what may be the greatest corporate calamity of all time, are unbelievable. The humanness of a first person narrator with Ken’s qualities serves as a handrail in our Cheshire print.
Many of the names in our story are fictitious. It was not our goal to embarrass anyone, especially private people. In fact, we are uninterested in anyone’s private life or personal values. This story is about organizational behavior, and corporate values. As a result, we have on occasion changed the names of people’s firms and their positions to protect their privacy. However, many of the names in our story are real, as with all five founders, for example. The many political, religious, media, and business leaders in our story carry their real names for obvious reasons. Many of the good people we encountered that did nothing that was not deserving of praise kept their God-given names, too. Others, especially minor characters, are presented using only their first names. People that went out of their way to speak to the press about the company and its founders have, in our opinion, become limited public figures in regard to Value America. In that they were not concerned about expressing their views, and exposing their names, we are comfortable treating them in kind.
The destruction of Value America hurt many fine people. By writing this story it is our hope that their sacrifices will not be in vain. Dot-coms have collapsed, especially e-tailers, yet they should have served factories and consumers in revolutionary ways. The solutions we invented, and the grand strategies we envisioned are for you to use. Many were magnificent. Yet the company we founded discarded them, and has since gone bankrupt, therefore they are free game. We only ask that you use what you learn in these pages to do well by doing good. We also hope that you learn from our mistakes. If what we encountered is not revealed, understood, and thwarted, the world may be in great peril.
Value America’s Five Founders