Charles Ferguson's hilarious, hard-boiled journey into the heart of high-tech darkness has become the signal book of the start-up generation. Ferguson took a good idea, started a company, and sold it to Microsoft for $133 million -- all in less than two years. High Stakes, No Prisoners is both a blistering inside account of how he did it and a brilliant tour of the brutally competitive and utterly unique world of Silicon Valley.
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 Ph.D., started up a company called Vermeer Technologies in 1994, a rough time for startups 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 startup 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
"A minefield of a book . . . few give a better portrait of the financial machinations that govern the life of a start-up."
-- Scott Herhold, San Jose Mercury News
"The Liar's Poker of the Internet economy . . . a wickedly funny book, in its way just as amusing as The New New Thing, but it is also more systematically informative about the technology business."
-- James Fallows, The New York Review of Books
"A fine, edgy story . . . Microsoft takes no prisoners, and neither does Charles Ferguson."
-- Steve Hamm, Business Week
"Great reading . . . Ferguson has a flair for describing the inside angle, and he relishes serving up unflattering descriptions of some of the tech industry's biggest names."
-- Thomas Goetz, The Industry Standard
"A terrific inside account of the journey from inspiration to start-up to IPO to takeover target. Fascinating."
-- Chicago Tribune
From the Back Cover