Don Cowan is President and Co-Founder of Cowan Alexander (www.cowanalexander.com), which is auctioning off the assets of San Diego-based MP3.com March 10th and 11th. Don has a unique view on the technology world, which I felt would be interesting to hear about.
BK: I'm an avid follower of your company's liquidation auctions, and particularly enjoy inspecting your catalogs for the number of Aeron chairs on auction from failed dot-coms. However, for my readers who aren't familiar with Cowan Alexander, tell us a bit about your auctions and your services--what does Cowan Alexander do?
DC: Cowan Alexander is one of the nations leading technology equipment auctioneers and liquidators. We provide equipment disposition solutions to technology investors, lenders and technology companies. Our approach is time-honored and straight forward: aggressively market and promote used technology equipment at date-certain competitive bidding events, increase competition by reaching the global marketplace with our superior webcast technology, provide a bidding environment that is fair and open that pits buyer against buyers and deliver maximum value to our seller.
BK: I notice that the volume of your auctions seems to have slowed down, and MP3.com might be the last major dot com you're disposing assets from. Do you think we've reached the end of the massive post bubble fire sale?
DC: We have reached the end of the dot.com liquidation boom. Our dot.com auction business has slowed dramatically and we do not see an increase on the horizon. Any dot.com that is still standing has probably "made it".
BK: Any areas you think that are still primed to have some failures, where your firm sees potential business?
DC: We see a continued decline in overall technology auction activity, specifically the closing and liquidation of entire plants and facilities. Every sector of the technology economy seems to be doing well. We do however keep busy with surplus management contracts with several leading technology companies.
BK: As someone who is intimately tuned to the ebb and flow of business failures, have you seen any commonality between the many companies who you have encountered in your business?
DC: The common thread we have seen in every dot.com failure has been unbridled spending on furniture, equipment and asset to create a "fun work environment" with pool tables, ping pong, video games, nerf guns, indoor and outdoor basketball, gyms, massage area and state-of-the-art conference and meeting rooms.
BK: What would you tell entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on what to do to avoid becoming just another listing in your auction catalog?
DC: Spend on quality people and buy everything else used. Always have purchasing maintain the scrappy bootstrapping mentality.