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He who tries to seize an opportunity after it has passed him by is like one who sees it approach but will not go to meet it. -Kahlil Gibran, Poet
Never has opportunity knocked as loudly as in the ’90s. The rise of the personal computer, coupled with the explosion of the Internet, has ensured that our lives will never be the same. By the time the dust settles, computers and information technology will leave very few aspects of our lives untouched. Shopping, banking, travel and investing are just a few of the industries that have been transformed by the king of all networks.
Last year’s business to consumer online shopping total reached $7.2 billion, nearly a 300% increase over 1997 totals, with analysts expecting it to reach the 10 billion mark by the year 2000. Rapid consumer acceptance of online shopping was the X factor, says Melissa Bane of the Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology market research firm. “Visa USA’s $25 million ad campaign touting online shopping didn’t hurt either,” she adds. Visa’s move gave those shoppers who were skeptical of e-commerce a symbolic OK to shop online.
Buying goods via the Internet may be the most visible of the effects of the new economy, but it’s certainly not the only one. “In the old economy, information flow was physical: cash, checks, invoices, bills of lading, reports and face-to-face meetings. In the new economy, information in all its forms becomes digital-reduced to bits stored in computers and racing at the speed of light across networks,” states Don Tapscott in The Digital Economy (McGraw-Hill, $14.95).
For businesses, adapting to these changes is crucial. Many companies have found ways to cut overhead by employing methods such as videoconferencing and managing their vendor relations via the Internet. Some, such as computer maker Dell-which sells $2 million worth of PCs via its Website per day-have harnessed the power of the Internet to boost their profit margins. Others have boosted sales in their traditional stores by providing marketing and product information to individuals who can follow up in the real world, adds Bane.
The new economy will also create new industries, and will reward handsomely those who build them. The following profiles are people who’ve heard the knocking, and answered the call.
Kimberly Davis has traveled the globe. She counts the dramatic extremes of Alaska’s frozen tundra and the South American tropics among her recent excursions. However, it was a trip to Nepal-which included a 14,000-foot trek up Mount Annapurna-that left the biggest impression. “The people of Nepal have what we would consider a basic lifestyle, yet they’re very passionate and in love with life,” says the 32-year-old venture capitalist. “It’s the exact opposite of Silicon Valley.”
But Nepal isn’t in the Dark Ages. “A surprising number of places had Internet access,” says Davis, who is rarely without her trusty PalmPilot organizer. “We even saw a Web cafe.” Such are the temporary reprieves from her post at ground zero in the new economy.
Davis is a general partner at IDG