THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The dazzling new documentary did not turn out the way it was supposed to. When the film screened at the recent Maryland Film Festival, co-director Jehane Noujaim told the crowd that she and Chris Hegedus (The War Room) began filming Kaleil Tuzman and his partner Tom Herman because they wanted to do a story about people getting crazy rich on one of those "dot-com" businesses. Tuzman and Herman had a bankable idea and were on their way to becoming millionaires. The film would show how internet companies can launch entrepreneurs into the stratosphere.

What they ended up with was much more surprising than they - or we - could ever expect. not only documents the meteoric rise of two dot-commers but also the way they fell victim, as so many others did, to the unstable world of this new business frontier.

Kaleil Tuzman prepares his team for the inevitable hardships they will face as they enter a highly competitive market in
Tuzman and Herman had an idea. The lifelong best friends believed that you should not have to miss a day's work to pay a parking ticket. They decided to start a web-based business wherein users could do that - and conduct other similar tasks - over the internet. Step one was raising some capital. The problems began almost immediately. The forceful Tuzman was intent on making a power presentation to potential investors while Herman openly admitted that not all the bugs had been worked out of the idea yet. After a series of failures, the duo eventually raised millions in investment capital (a deal that almost didn't happen when they were unable to get their lawyer on the phone before the negotiation deadline). All the money was poured into development and a new company called was born.

GOVworks did not have it easy, though. Their beta-testing showed serious design flaws that needed fixed before going online. Another company came up with the same general idea and went in direct competition. Someone broke into the office in a case of corporate sabotage. Through it all, GOVworks remained wildly successful. The number of employees grew rapidly and Tuzman ended up on the cover of Forbes magazine. It all seemed like a dream come true until the reality of internet business came calling. As quickly as the company came together, it started to fall apart.

The effect on GOVworks was unfortunate, but the real tragedy is the effect the crash had on the friendship between Tuzman and Herman. We can see that theirs is a very balanced relationship. Tuzman is the showman, the type-A personality always reaching to go a little higher, make a little more money. Herman, meanwhile, is the voice of reason - perhaps even to a fault. He is more laid back than his partner, less concerned with magazine covers than running a good operation. When the website started to lose money hand-over-fist, it led to a falling-out between the friends. follows both men through the betrayal, the legal threats, and the attempt to somehow reconcile the relationship. (I'm not going to tell you what happens, except to say that until he somewhat redeems himself, I found Tuzman to be one of the most despicable movie villains I've seen in a long time.)

The dissection of a dot-com business would be fascinating enough but achieves its brilliance by focusing on how a friendship is threatened by the very unstable world of internet business. Money is made and lost every day in this country; lifelong friendships are not. Watching the two men balance their personal relationship with the tough realities of the financial world is every bit as exciting as a big-budget Hollywood action picture. Maybe even more so because we know the stakes are very real.

Noujaim and Hegedus have created a masterful documentary - certainly one of the most engrossing and important ones in recent memory. It is, as the director of the Maryland Film Festival pointed out, very much "of its time."

Almost six years ago, my lifelong friend Chris Wagner and I started the magazine you are now reading. We had a dream, raised some money, put together a website. Along the way there were disagreements about style and content. Occasionally, we feuded over who was supposed to do what. Those minor bumps in the road never amounted to much for two reasons: 1.) we continue to share the dream; and 2.) we have yet to become millionaires off this venture. Nevertheless, I know other internet entrepreneurs will find the events portrayed in to be identifiable; non-webmasters will find it a revealing glimpse behind a modern-day curtain. There is an old adage that business and friendship don't mix. That's not entirely true. Business and friendship and money don't mix. Just ask Tuzman and Herman.

( out of four) is rated R for language. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.
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