When AOL Was God

Big feature story on everybody's favorite corporate behemoth, AOL, whose notable accomplishments include bringing stupidity to the Internet.

Specifically, it's about Myer Berlow and David Colburn, two men responsible for many of AOL's aggressive advertising deals and partnership, whose high price tags actually begat the downfall of many dot-coms.

Some highlights:

The rabbis weren't there just to pray for AOL souls. Colburn wanted them to pray for AOL stock. He offered a deal: If each rabbi agreed to pray for AOL's shares to rise to a certain level, and they hit that level, Colburn promised to donate $1 million to a Jewish cause.

"So you have skin in the game," he explained, cackling.


Colburn loved to indulge his children. In June 2000, he celebrated his daughter Rachel's bat mitzvah by hiring one of the hottest boy bands on the planet: 'N Sync. The party favor reportedly cost $1 million. Nearly two years later, in March 2002, Colburn pulled out all the stops for his other daughter, Jessica, at her bat mitzvah party, paying $35,000 to rent much of the ground floor at Washington's Union Station. The featured attraction was rock star Dave Matthews. How much this cost was not revealed. Jessica's shindig also featured boxing promoter Don King and a Las Vegas theme, including a casino with fake $100 bills bearing her picture.


Before the strangling and the death threat, the meeting in Dulles began innocently enough.


In one instance, two vice presidents were promoted to senior vice president at around the same time in the late 1990s. But when they got new offices, one executive suspected an inequity. He pulled out blueprints and measured the square footage of each office. His suspicions were confirmed when it turned out that the other guy's office was bigger than his by a few feet.

"He blew a gasket," said a former employee who worked with him.

Walls were moved, and his office was reconfigured to make it as large as his counterpart's.


By late 1999, many companies seeking to do business with AOL were no longer viewed as potential partners. They were a target, to be used. The first order of business was for AOL deal makers to find out how much money the dot-coms had raised in venture capital funding, then try to extract as much as possible from them in online ad deals. Informally, AOL's goal was to get a minimum of 50 percent of a dot-com's venture capital funding.

" '[F-word] 'em,' that was our mantra," said an AOL official. "We'd say that all the time. We took it to heart. 'Destroy them. [F-word] 'em.' You lived by that."
Colburn was eventually fired and Berlow kicked downstairs to a meaningless consulting position after apparently misrepresenting AOL's advertising revenue.

Oh, I'm sure they're still filthy rich, so don't feel too bad for them. Even though their actions probably caused the deaths of several companies and thousands of jobs, which has in turn contributed to our down economy, you can bet these guys will go unpunished. God bless America.

1 comment:

  1. The greed that was perpetuated by Berlow and Colburn directly contributed to the dot com crash. Karma will catch up to them in a spectacular fashion one day.