Rodes Fishburne is an American writer with experience as a journalist, playwright, and novelist. His 2008 novel Going to See the Elephant explores the creative and financial difficulties of writing and employs a euphemism for “going out west,” replete with all the exoticism that comes with it. His 2004 one-act play Waiting for Henry to Snow revolved around the theme of honor, while 2002’s Note to Self dealt with theft and plagiarism. He has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times. Born in Virginia, Fishburne graduated from Emory and Henry College and attended St. Peter’s College, Oxford.
Question: How does this dotcom era compare to the last?
Rodes Fishburne: Well, there is a lot more guardedness in this dot.com era both from the venture capitalists and just, I think, the general public has sort of been promised a lot, and it is starting to come to fruition. My sense is that this dot.com era is not a bubble as much as the last one. I can remember going down the street in San Francisco in 1999, and I stopped at my corner grocer and I bought an apple, a granny smith apple, and on the apple was a little sticker, and normally that sticker says, “produce from New Zealand.”
And this sticker said, “Pets.com, go here to buy your cat food.” And I was looking at the sticker and I heard a sound above me and I looked up and there was a blimp in the air about 200 feet off the ground and it was a Pets.com blimp. And I realized that we were in this really bizarre world where the internet had sort of taken over the advertising and that being inside of a bubble, where up is down; right is wrong; gravity is inverted, is very stimulating for awhile but it is not sustainable.
That is not how this feels, and I think this internet phase that we are in is basically delivering on the promises that the first internet bubble made. I think that is exciting, I think the internet is going to probably do everything everybody claimed it was going to do, it is just going to take longer than people wanted to admit at the beginning, and we still have miles to go before we sleep.
Question: What companies are you watching?
Rodes Fishburne: Not the second coming of Pets.com, but there are companies that I feel like there is no application for me. I don’t understand Twitter because that is just not the thing I am interested in doing. I understand it is interesting to a lot of people, and I sort of wonder what the sort of longevity of things like that are, are they just little mini-fads and they are going to be gone quickly. There are these Web 2.0 companies that you hear about and you just think, that’s a feature that could be part of a bigger website, but it is not really its own stand alone thing.
I think there is a fair amount of that going on. But the fascinating thing about this phase of the internet compared to the earlier phase is that the amount of money it takes this time to do a start-up is so miniscule, and I have a number of friends who have done legitimate start-ups on $30,000, which they have done on their credit cards or they have done small friends and family rounds of financing, and so when the stakes are at that level, the innovation is so much more because there are not these gatekeepers, I think the venture capitalists are absolutely in a panic right now because that means that there is less of a role for them out on some of these smaller ideas.
Now, it remains to be seen if any of these smaller $30,000 start-up ideas are going to blow up to become big things, but the economics of it has changed and that is playing a pretty powerful role and driving innovation that is at the heart of the internet.
Recorded on: June 3, 2008.