In-Depth

Where Are They Now?

A promising biotech company from the late 80s had Donald Rumsfeld on its board. Wonder where he ended up?

Upside magazine arguably was one of the most influential trade publications in the last 25 years.

Its impact went far beyond its own reach because Upside spawned a new genre of magazines, including Red Herring, Business 2.0, and the infamous The Industry Standard. Wired magazine might fall in the same category. Staid competitors such as Forbes, Fortune, and Business Week were forced to create special sections to compete with the upstarts. Taken together, this sudden rush to cover the business of high tech raised the visibility and scrutiny of that sector to new levels.

Some would derisively say that these "new economy" magazines not only participated in but also contributed to the bubble and its pop. Certainly, many of their writers were the loudest voices shouting what Alan Greenspan famously termed "irrational exuberance." Business 2.0 and The Industry Standard's John Battelle were pre-eminent in arguing that economic fundamentals had been torn up by high tech's rocketing importance.

The magazines enjoyed a meteoric rise in ad sales when advertisers bought into their story. Ironically, most of the ads were from high-tech companies advertising to one another rather than to customers, which, like the whole dot-bomb bubble, was unsustainable. Then all the titles paid the price for believing what they wrote, popping spectacularly like The Industry Standard with its ridiculously out-of-control expenses, or bleeding slowly to death from declining ad sales, as in Upside's case.

But the magazines all contributed to providing more visibility to a critical sector.

Under the editorial guidance of cofounder Tony Perkins and later David Bunnell (the founder of PC Magazine, PC World, and many other titles), the Upside staff created a uniquely irreverent (and some would say over-the-top) title that was nothing if not an interesting read.

As FTP Inc. consolidates its news coverage under the resuscitated Upside brand, we'll mix a handful of feature articles that probe the causes behind the news with straightforward coverage of companies and their products. But from time to time, under the "Years Ago" rubric, we'll resurrect old stories to focus on movers and shakers covered in past issues, to show where they were then and where they are going.

This premiere issue of Upside from Summer 1989 contains some interesting fodder for future coverage. For example, Upside profiled a promising biotech company called Gilead Sciences Inc., writing, "This is a hot area. I think Gilead could be an even bigger winner than Genentech." Gilead raised "at least $25 million" from Menlo Ventures. "On Gilead's board is none other than Donald Rumsfeld—Ford's Secretary of Defense and former CEO of G.D. Searle & Co."

Wonder where he ended up?

Other articles profile the likes of VC giant Kleiner Perkins, including this bromide: "Venture capital is terrific when it is done on a small scale with great care," says one KP co-investor. "But too much money is the evil." Since then, average VC investments have quintupled.

A feature on law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati notes that the competition for new hires had been difficult, forcing the firm to "boost the starting pay to $62,000." I dare say that figure has increased faster than the CLI since 1989.

Check back on this column in future months as we dig into Upside's archives to show you where they were, where they are, and where they're going. Should be fun.

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