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Startup.com

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Cover Image Not Available 
Starring: Kaleil Tuzman, Tom Herman
Director: Chris Hegedus
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: May 2001
Genre: Documentary





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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

It may not rank with Alexander Graham Bell's idea of long distance voice communication, but the team at govWorks.com does have a vision. They want citizens to be able to order fishing licenses at 3:15 A.M., attend town meetings in their underwear and pay parking tickets on-line.

STARTUP.COM, the engrossing and enlightening documentary about govWorks by Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim, argues convincingly, if only by implication, that for the company's founders, Tom Herman and Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, it isn't about creating "insanely great" products, as Steve Jobs would say, but about making insanely large amounts of money. About the only song in the film is "Money (That's All I Want)," which just about sums up the approach of these two hard-working entrepreneurs.

Tom, the technical lead, and Kaleil, the CEO, have been best buddies since high school. Like brothers, they talk to the company's employees and to each other about their mutual "love." Although this isn't a fictional story, the decline of their mutual affection takes on Shakespearean proportions when their dot-com begins a rapid descent into a dot-bomb. Although they each have their own families and loved ones, which we see in glimpses, their bond is just like a marriage. When Tom starts talking about how he has always viewed himself as being a co-CEO, you can hear the offstage corporate divorce lawyers sharpening their pencils.

We follow the company by tagging along with Tom, Kaleil or both, as they go from nothing to $50 million in VC funding in a few months and as their staff bloats up past 300. There probably are worker bees toiling away in the background who passionately believe in their product, but what we see are a couple of 28-year-old guys who dream of getting rich. Kaleil, who hobnobs on TV with everyone from President Clinton on down, seems on a trajectory to billionaire status. A comment from one employee, who believes himself destined to be a mere multi-millionaire, hints of possible resentment over the size of Kaleil's options package.

But before Kaleil and Tom become as rich as Croesus, there are a few problems to be dealt with. The Web site that they assume will make them all wealthy isn't a focus of the movie or the management until the end. "The VCs are not in this for charity," Kaleil warns over his cell phone. When they should be ramping up slowly and paying attention to their product and their business plan, Kaleil and Tom are out hustling money. At one point, Kaleil tries to work in some time to get more involved with the product he is pedaling, but he and Tom can't figure out when that would be. Both of them are likable guys who you want to win but who seem headed for disaster.

On April 14, 2000, the anniversary of the day that the Titanic struck the infamous iceberg, the NASDAQ crashes dramatically. A savvy Kaleil immediately sees the writing on the wall. Just like the movie TITANIC, STARTUP.COM is fascinating even if we feel certain that the company will sink in the end. Whatever you do, don't leave before the ending credits which tells you the status of the company, what happened to Kaleil and Tom's friendship and what they're doing now. Expect to see these guys on the business talk shows again. Maybe soon. Who knows, as they say, "what goes down must come up."

STARTUP.COM runs 1:43. It is rated R for brief language and would be acceptable for any kid old enough to be interested in the subject.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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