“Startup.com” is an extraordinarily insightful documentary, chronicling not just the rise and fall of dot-com companies in the late 20th century, but also the perils of mixing business and personal relationships in any era.
At the center is a grand idea for a Web site: a portal that would allow you to pay parking tickets and handle other municipal government business over the Internet. Long-time friends Kaleil Tuzman and Tom Herman are the brains behind GovWorks.com, and the film takes them from the beginning, with eight employees, up to 233 employees, and back down again.
Kaleil is the more charismatic, forceful and mercurial of the two; Tom is quieter, less social and more brooding. Both show signs of a Machiavellian nature, though Kaleil would call it being aggressive in business, and Tom would call it getting what’s rightfully his.
Directors Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time: They set out to document a rising Internet business, not knowing where it would ultimately lead. But credit them for rising to the occasion. “Startup.com” tells the story fairly and without reenactments or movie gimmickry. Hegedus’ long experience with documentary work is brought to bear, as is Noujaim’s work as a producer for MTV. (Yes, some moments here are a bit like “The Real World,” only more real.)
The details of the business are not discussed; there are rooms full of people doing something, but I have no idea what it is. It’s not relevant, anyway. Kaleil and Tom’s friendship, and the strains placed thereon, is ultimately the point. And along the way, it’s a fascinating view of Internet business in the 2000s.
B+ (; )