Originally created 04/21/01

Taps for many dot-com military sites

The bloody dot-com battlefield has claimed more casualties, this time from the ranks of Internet operations that had targeted the hearts, minds and computers of America's military community.

Among those Web sites for which Taps has played is MilitaryHub.com, an ambitious venture begun by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot that never got far off the ground.

Last year at this time, no fewer than six major for-profit sites were battling for the favor of the nation's estimated 30 million active-duty troops, reservists, veterans and family members.

This target audience - a traditionally loyal group with an array of common interests, an annual economic buying punch of as much as $300 billion, a proclivity for paying bills on time, and a high comfort level with computers - seemed a dream market for Web advertisers and retailers.

Now, the Battle of the Dot-Com Bulge is all but over. Most of those original military sites are dead, consigned to the ever-expanding cyber-graveyard of startups that couldn't translate seemingly good ideas into a healthy online business, analysts say.

The undisputed winner is Military.com, started by a naval reserve officer and Harvard business school graduate. Now with more than 1 million members, the site (http:www.military.com) offers everything from a way to contact old service buddies to military news to financial planning help.

Its mix of services, along with aggressive marketing, combined to vault it ahead of the pack, analysts say. It boasts strong venture capital backing, including from A&E Television Networks.

The others that survived are largely a far cry from their former selves. For instance, one once-promising military-oriented site - originally called Maingate.com and boasting 80,000 members last spring - has morphed from a comprehensive portal that offered free e-mail, discount coupons, and nationwide apartment listings into SgtMoms.com, a site dedicated to military family life run as a hobby by a Navy wife and mother.

Perot's venture also had lofty goals. Long a high-tech pioneer and advocate for the nation's GIs and vets, Perot vowed his site would provide a tangible "thank-you" for their service to their country.

One tantalizing reward he intended to offer site members was the chance to buy shares in the startup enterprise and, if it took off, the prospect of reaping Wall Street riches in return. Perot even said he would personally guarantee that no military investor would ever lose his or her principal stake.

Perot also envisioned a jobs clearinghouse, along with the offering of new and used cars, mortgages, loans, insurance, home appliances and tickets to top-tier sporting events - all at the lowest prices and best rates around. He invested 48 percent of the venture's undisclosed initial capital, but promised to roll any profit he personally made into a foundation to help service members.

Alas, Perot's site was slated to debut last Memorial Day - just as the dot-com bubble began to burst. MilitaryHub.com soldiered on but never got much beyond a concept.

Perot won't say when he yanked the plug on MilitaryHub.com nor precisely why. But he says he hasn't given up on the concept. He has "a small but very talented team" toiling "seven days a week" to build a new online operation that will succeed, even in these dot-bomb times. He intends to launch it "when it's ready," he said.

"I want it done properly," Perot said. "We want to provide every possible service."


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