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High Stakes, No Prisoners: A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars [Hardcover]

Charlie Ferguson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 Dec 1998
High Stakes, No Prisoners is a sharp, brilliant insider's account of the way Silicon Valley really works: the sharks, powerful incumbents, and old-boy networks who play hardball all the time and the geniuses who make the products that have changed the world.

Charles Ferguson started Vermeer Technologies and turned his very cool, very big idea into FrontPage, the first software product for creating and managing a website. A mere twenty months after starting the company, he sold it to Microsoft for $133 million, making a fortune for himself and his associates. FrontPage now has millions of users and is bundled with Microsoft Office. But getting there wasn't always fun.

High Stakes, No Prisoners is the book about the Valley and reflects Ferguson's unique experience not only as a successful entrepreneur but also as a policy analyst, computer industry consultant, and academic.

Reveals A Great Internet Success Story

High Stakes, No Prisoners is a highly personal account of what it really takes to win as a high-technology startup, especially in the Internet industry, where any speed below warp nine doesn't get you to takeoff. From securing venture capital to getting both the strategy and the technology right, from dealing with Microsoft's power to working with some of the quirkiest, smartest people on the planet, it's all here. The Valley story has never been told with this much depth and honesty.

Reports from the Trenches of the Internet Wars Vermeer was right in the middle of the battle between Microsoft and Netscape. Both companies wanted to either acquire Vermeer or kill it.

Skewers the Sacred Cows of the Valley

Yes, Microsoft declared war on Netscape, but the latter's demise was caused as much by itself as by Microsoft. Ferguson, for example, sees Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape, as arrogant, ignorant about technology, distracted by politics and glamour, and running a company in partnership with a twenty-three-year-old who'd never held a serious job before." Here's Netscape as it has never before been revealed.

Explains the Real Problem with Microsoft Microsoft's business model is unquestionably one of the great creations of American business. But its power has become so great, its behavior so unrestrained, and its abuses so dangerous that intelligent action has to be taken. Ferguson's analysis of what must be done is a major contribution to one of the most important public-policy questions of our time.

Silicon Valley is the crown jewel of the American economy and a critical driver of American technology. It's electric, addictive, vulgar, full of brilliance, brutally fair and brutally unfair, fiercely competitive, often dishonest, tremendously exciting, and utterly unique.With High Stakes, No Prisoners, the real story has finally been told--with frankness, insight, and great wit.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (31 Dec 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812931432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931433
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 922,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

If you've ever gone out to lunch with a coworker and suddenly found yourself witness to a savage stream of unflattering assessments of bosses, wicked gossip, and the-emperor-has-no-clothes analysis of your industry, you'll know what it's like to read High Stakes, No Prisoners. Ferguson, an MIT PhD., started up a company called Vermeer Technologies in 1994, a rough time for start-ups in Silicon Valley. The country was coming out of a recession, the stock market was stagnant, and the Internet wasn't yet taken seriously by those with money to invest. Vermeer had a software program called FrontPage that only someone who understood the coming power of the Net could appreciate. Even in Silicon Valley, few were so prescient.

Most of High Stakes is the story of Vermeer, from its start-up to its sale to Microsoft. (Now bundled with Microsoft Office, FrontPage is used by more than 3 million people worldwide.) Along the way, Ferguson met the players in the Valley and formed strong opinions of them. He describes Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale as an egomaniac and technological dolt in way, way over his head. Oracle founder Larry Ellison is "severely warped." One of his best lines sums up Silicon Valley as a place where "one finds little evidence that the meek shall inherit the earth."

But this isn't just the technological equivalent of WWF trash-talking. Ferguson is very tough on himself, too, and details his own shortcomings as a person and a businessman. Mostly, it's a gloves-off account of how things really get done in high technology today, as refreshingly honest and acerbic an account as you'll ever read. --Lou Schuler --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


A very interesting read. Not often there is a book written by someone high up on the 'inside' about the life of an Internet start-up. -- M2 Best Books, February 16, 2001 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, acerbic, and detailed: nothing is held back 26 April 2001
By A Customer
Start-ups, says Charles Ferguson, author of High Stakes, No Prisoners, are the intellectual equivalent of driving a small, fast convertible with the top down, the stereo playing Keith Jarrett, Bach or JJ Cale very loud, doing 100 miles an hour on an empty road at sunset. "You might crash, but the experience is visceral, immediate, and intense."
Anyone considering taking that ride would be well advised to read Ferguson's book before they set out. High Stakes is a witty, acerbic, and detailed account of how he grew Vermeer from a germ of an idea into a world leader in web site authoring technology. It was a painful but highly lucrative exercise. Vermeer was sold to Microsoft for $113 million after just two years.
What makes this different from other Silicon Valley start-up tales is that Ferguson doesn't hold anything back. He recounts the endless meetings with venture capitalists and the internal struggles that almost brought the company down. He is also quick to criticise both himself and others, resulting in a book that is both educational and entertaining.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Precious advice, good reading 7 Feb 2001
By A Customer
A book full of facts, stories and cause-effect relations. Do you want to know why Netscape didn't make it ? How can you put vendor lock-in in your software ? What are the surprises when partnering with a VC ? Insider stories of software product strategies, critical views of "industry leaders", vaporware competition etc., told by someone able to point at his own mistakes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
An inspiring and fascinating book which is a must-read for all aspiring high-tech entrepreneurs and CEOs. Charles Ferguson relates how he founded Vermeer, created Frontpage, and within two years sold it to Microsoft for $130m. He comes across as smart, arrogant, paranoid and brilliantly perceptive. He admits his mistakes and pulls no punches in describing the people he dealt with.
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By A Customer
This book has been a real page turner, and is guilty of keeping me up FAR too late at night in recent days.
It's a fascinating insight into how the Internet has taken off in the past 6 or 7 years, and having been using for that period myself I can relate the author's insights and behind-the-scenes experience to the news headlines I've followed over the years.
He's blunt and says what he thinks of the movers and the shakers in the industry and is an absolutely invaluable guide for anybody with an idea who wishes to start their own company since it documents what his company did, and what mistakes they believe they made.
Anybody interested in 'net history, s/w development, or Internet start-ups should make a point of reading this.
Absolutely one of the best books I've read recently.
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5.0 out of 5 stars dissing the careerist CEO 10 May 2003
He has a healthy contempt for mechanistic VCs, fussy lawyers - and self-serving, careerist CEOs. Like them, he wanted to get rich. Unlike them, he was passionate about building a successful product/company and making sure his mates benefitted to some extent as well; whereas professional businessmen view business as a cynical game in which large sums of money are passed between people of "the right sort".
His contempt for bandwagon-hopping careerist businessmen who subordinate entire companies to their rampaging egos is amusing, particularly if, like most people, you've encountered such rats yourself. Polemical in parts, of course, but a splendid book.
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