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Monday, July 05, 2010

Welcome to the Machine
Posted by Jill | 5:47 AM
I like to pride myself on being pretty web geeky for someone of my advanced age, but I'd never even HEARD of Woot until this morning, when I read at nytimes.com that the site has been gobbled up by the 800-pound gorilla of the Web, Amazon.com.

Woot is apparently a little site that amidst a whole shitload of hipster cool, sells one item a day until it is, shall we say, sold out. Then the lucky few can talk about their prized possessions in a community forum on the site. There's no customer support and no warranties. You don't like it, you can e-mail them for a return authorization, but you pay the freight back. This is no-frills, fuck-you online retailing.

Which brings us to this acquisition.

If I were working at Woot, I'd be starting to look at just how much I want to sell out. Because it doesn't matter how funny the CEO tries to be about it:
Date: Weds, 30 June 2010
From: Matt Rutledge (CEO – Woot.com)
To: All Woot Employees
Subject: Woot and Amazon

I know I say this every time I find a picture of an adorable kitten, but please set aside 20 minutes to carefully read this entire email. Today is a big day in Woot history. This morning, I woke up to find Jeff Bezos the Mighty had seized our magic sword. Using the Arthurian model as a corporate structure was something our CFO had warned against from the very beginning, but now that’s water under the bridge. What is important is that our company is on the verge of becoming a part of the Amazon.com dynasty. And our plans for Grail.Woot are on indefinite hold.

Over the next few days, you will probably read headlines that say “Matt Rutledge revealed to be monstrous pseudo-human creation of Jeff Bezos.” You might even see this photo making the rounds. Rest assured that these rumors have nothing to do with our final decision. We think now is the right time to join with Amazon because, quite simply, every company that becomes a subsidiary gets two free downloads until the end of July, and we very much need that new thing with Trent Reznor’s wife on our iPods.

Other than that, we plan to continue to run Woot the way we have always run Woot – with a wall of ideas and a dartboard. From a practical point of view, it will be as if we are simply adding one person to the organizational hierarchy, except that one person will just happen to be a billion-dollar company that could buy and sell each and every one of you like you were office furniture. Nevertheless, don’t worry that our culture will suddenly take a leap forward and become cutting-edge. We’re still going to be the same old bottom-feeders our customers and readers have come to know and love, and each and every one of their pre-written insult macros will still be just as valid in a week, two weeks, or even next year. For Woot, our vision remains the same: somehow earning a living on snarky commentary and junk.

...selling out is still selling out, particularly with as head-scratching a business model as Woot apparently has.

Seven months ago, Amazon acquired Zappos, the online shoe retailer, and Jeff Bezos has made a big show about how he hasn't even visited Zappos' headquarters, let alone tried to change the culture. But seven months is nothing in corporate time. The company I work for acquired another one three years ago and the transition is STILL going on.

You can tell that the Bertie Wootsters are a bit nervous:

It's hard enough to believe that a company which seems to have been founded by the Ron Livingston character in Office Space after he gets tired of digging up the rubble from Initech still even exists, let alone that it can maintain that kind of culture in a society of diminishing disposable income and equally disappearing jobs. So sure, perhaps for a while Jeff Bezos will stay away and those lucky enough to work at Woot can continue to wear cutoffs to work and play Wii on a huge flatscreen TV whenever they encounter an intractable code bug. But the minute you are part of a publicly-held company, Wall Street owns your ass -- and won't hesitate to demand that you be jettisoned if it means meeting the numbers for the next quarter.


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