Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Business Impact

Robot Dreams

Robo Sapiens: Evolution of a New Species

Robo Sapiens: Evolution of a New Species
By Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio
MIT Press, 240 pp., $29.95

Scene 1: Tom Ashbrook, a Boston Globe foreign correspondent, and his former college roommate Rolly Rouse are running through the woods of Newton, Mass., “laughing like idiots and whooping and slapping trees.” They’re so high on their plan to become Internet entrepreneurs that Tom is “hopping up on a big rock, pissing a long arc into the woods, laughing and crowing like a goofy rooster.”

Scene 2, two years later: Rolly has left the office with chest pain and numbness in his left arm. Tom, whose wife will shortly send him e-mail saying that she has been vomiting in the bathroom with stress over their dire financial picture, is banging away on his computer in a daze. “A little light was finally coming on somewhere deep in my mind, ” Tom later writes. “[Rolly] could be dead. He could have broken himself over this dream.”

This story is part of our September/October 2000 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Scene 3, another year later: A venture capital firm has just called to commit $3 million to HomePortfolio.com, as the outfit is now called. Rolly and Tom are once again “roaring with joy. Riffing our air guitars. Leaping.”

The Leap is Ashbrook’s frank, intimate, funny memoir of the hair-raising process of starting, with Rouse, HomePortfolio.com, an Internet business that helps people design their homes and pick out the products they’ll need. Without quite knowing why, but feeling he had no choice, Ashbrook left his successful career at the Globe for a life of infrequent paychecks, maxed-out credit cards and endless dog-and-pony shows before skeptical investors. Today, HomePortfolio.com has raised more than $25 million and is the leading site on the Web for previewing and buying premium home design products, like those $3,000 gold-plated faucets you always wanted for the guest bathroom. But if Ashbrook’s colleagues had known what he and his family were about to go through when he resigned from the paper in 1996 to co-found the company, fewer of them might have expressed their envy.

This is the face of innovation in the new economy: the elation of having a new idea, the agony of pleading for money to get the idea off the ground, and, for a lucky few, the blessing of venture capitalists. There’s little in Ashbrook’s account to suggest that he was deeply passionate about home design or the company’s business model. Instead, he seems driven by the raw need to be on the frontier, to build something out of nothing, the way his ancestors did when they took the leap and came to America. That takes courage, faith and a little bit of madness-all familiar strains in the history of innovation. Maybe this new economy isn’t so new after all.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Business Impact

How technology advances are changing the economy and providing new opportunities in many industries.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.