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about Asia Buzz  |  more Asia Buzz

Asia Buzz: Those Were the Days
Hype doesn't sell. Results do
By ERIC ELLIS

November 28, 2000
Web posted at 2:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 1:00 a.m. EDT


They were briefly -- very briefly -- Asia's greatest hopes. They were the darlings of the media, the brightest stars in a future techno-firmament, the best chance Asia had to reinvent itself after the financial disasters of the 1990s. They still might be, but we don't hear much about them anymore.

 INTERACTIVE  
Ticked off at Asia Buzz? Turned on? Talk back to TIME
 
"They," of course, were the groovy gang who were going to change our world, Asia's own Internet stars. They were people like Singapore's Wong Toon King, the onetime pinup boy of the local press who tantalized them -- or was it his ego? -- by wearing a NASDAQ baseball cap to press conferences only to deny that's where his hugely-hyped Silkroute.com incubator was headed. Don't hear much from him these days.

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   ASIAWEEK
Intelligence
The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

Then there's David Kim, who at one time seemed to have more jobs than Richard Li has debt problems. Problem was that every time Kim jumped, from Lycos to Chinadotcom to Softbank to Techpacific.com, he missed the payoff. Does he have the kiss of death?

Or does that belong to Jonathan Hakim, the self-styled wild child of the Asian Net, who helped kick-start the IandI (Internet and Information) networking circuit. That was a good idea, but less so his claim that he built the Asian Internet. Him and Al Gore perhaps?

There was Techpacific itself, a group of Hong Kong investment bankers not previously known for their tech prowess. They were going to change the world, and I guess they did for about 100 of their close colleagues and associates who were convinced to part with $80 million for a business that redefines the term business -- that is, that there's not much of it going on. Techpacific.com isn't going to make serious money anytime soon. It went public on the Hong Kong bourse day the tech wreck gathered pace. And that was its best day.

And of course, there's Richard Li. Enough said.

For a while there, while these guys were rampant, the most dangerous place in Asia wasn't East Timor or Aceh, but the space between them and a microphone or a reporter's notebook. Like their counterparts in the U.S, from whom they took publicity pointers, they thrived on first-mover advantage of a peculiarly Asian kind -- first to get their name in the paper. The media has learnt now not to swallow the errant nonsense that Asia's Net lords were spouting.

Still, the message that hype doesn't sell hasn't entirely sunk in for some people. For a good example that suggests some are still reading last year's copies of Fast Company instead of today's Asian Wall Street Journal, log onto Techpacific.com's "About Us" page. If you leave aside the sloppy spelling, grammar and cliches, we learn that the chairman has "gone plural," that the COO is responsible for developing a corporate "ecosystem" and that half the staff seem to celebrate their geekiness. Oh, and Jon Hakim built the Asian Net.

There's not much in there about how the company will make money. And Techpacific.com's share price is still falling. The company's best hope might seem to be to employ some of the investment banking skills of its principals. There are plenty of companies out there in Asian Net land that went public during the price boom, raised lots of cash, but are now trading well below their basic cash value. That's an opportunity for vulture capitalists, not venture capitalists. So while Techpacific and companies like it are redesigning their business plans, they also might want to redesign their website as well. Hype doesn't sell. Results do.

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