The Unsung Saga of the Silicon Valley Startup that Helped Give Birth to the Internet—and Then Fumbled the Ball

Non-Fiction - Business/Finance
377 Pages
Reviewed on 06/13/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Jeff Chase and Jon Zilber's 3Com is the true story and “unsung saga of the Silicon Valley start-up that helped give birth to the internet—and then fumbled the ball.” With an impressive foreword by 3Com daddy Bob Metcalfe, the all-important threshold of authenticity required in a non-fiction account is met. The book covers the company's thirty-year lifespan from its conception in 1979, its growing pains (there were few, initially), the development of the Palm Pilot, multiple acquisitions, and its ultimate demise in a spectacular fall from grace, relegated to the memory of....well, almost nobody. I might be one of the few, which is why this book was an immediate stand out for me.

I grew up in San Francisco, attending Giant's games at 3Com Park. I was only a teenager but living in the Bay Area meant that we knew—we all knew—what was happening, growing, changing, developing, and dying with our tech giant neighbors to the south. It's fascinating to me to go back and read about a company that was so influential to the growth of our city. Jeff Chase and Jon Zilber write with a levity that makes 3Com comfortable for even the greatest of technophobes. Even better, there is genuine insight and lessons applicable even today into how a company can go from being king to being a ghost in less than a generation. I believe this book will find wide readership with anyone who has an interest in computer science and the history of modern technology, as well as with those who own or run a business in any industry themselves. Highly recommended as both an informative read and an intriguing story in and of itself.

Joel R. Dennstedt

In 1979, the world was much different. Especially in the realm of computer technology, before the entity now called the internet spread its universal web. Computer geeks and engineering pros today look back on this time as ancient history when the initial revolution creating and defining the modern e-world first exploded with all the massive impact (and import) of an atom bomb. As might be expected, there is historical drama to be retold and entrepreneurial lessons to be learned from returning to such a time of genesis. Jeff Chase with Jon Zilber focus on a central player, 3COM, a young company who contributed the most vital seed for making Ethernet accessibility possible. A major player that may have subsequently, sadly, after several decades, left the scene but also left behind some hugely dynamic and massively creative fingerprints.

Jeff Chase's 3COM reads like any great business thriller. The major characters are unique and mesmerizing, flawed and brilliant, human and beyond normal. They are youngsters filled with zeal and intelligence, as well as vision and a passion for success. Like innovators at any time, they are mostly flying blind, making rapid-fire decisions as they go, eager to create a perfect future. Like business executives of any time, they are also keen to organize and capitalize, cooperate and compete, and sell their bold new ideas and miraculous products to anyone who needs them. Heady stuff. And 3COM the book makes for a thrilling ride, even ensconced within the necessary techno-babble spoken fluently by all engineering techno-geeks, i.e. the brilliant people.

Gisela Dixon

Jeff Chase's 3Com, subtitled 'the unsung saga of the Silicon Valley startup that helped give birth to the Internet—and then fumbled the ball,' is a non-fiction book on the evolution and ultimate fate of one of the significant companies and market leaders in the days of the early Ethernet and internet boom: 3Com. In this book, Jeff has done a lot of research and personally known and been involved during some of the most significant times in the history of 3Com. He has divided the book into major sections and chapters that examine in detail the history of 3Com as well as its founder members, its evolution and early market strategy, the big payoff, and the time when it was making big money, its decline and some of the reasons this happened, along with a general history and overview of the company itself, its people, its culture over the years, and more. There is also an index and additional reading references at the end along with some interesting anecdotes as well.

This is an entertaining read. More than that, I think it is an eye-opener in some ways as most of the current generation takes the Internet for granted. This book and the history of 3Com, which showcases the early days of the World Wide Web and such, makes for a thrilling read into the evolution of a technology that has proven transformative for human civilization in unimaginable ways. Although the history of 3Com is one that is ultimately of decline, its contribution to the global Internet technology has been tremendous and indispensable and I enjoyed reading this book. Jeff writes in a detailed, thorough style that provides a step-by-step insight into what happened with 3Com over the years. There are also quite informative biographies presented of the many alumni and employees of 3Com, which I appreciated. This is a good book that I would recommend.

K.C. Finn

The book 3Com is a work of technical non-fiction penned by co-authors Jeff Chase and Jon Zilber, one which focuses on ‘The unsung saga of the Silicon Valley startup that helped give birth to the Internet—and then fumbled the ball’. An educational and informative guide to one of the major breakthroughs that resulted in the innovative world of the internet and the technology-reliant society in which we now live, this fascinating book gives 3Com the credit that has, in its authors’ opinions, been long overdue. Alongside the incredible journey of this powerful start-up that has since been forgotten, key traditional business lessons from the past are presented again for the future of innovation in the technology field.

Never having delved into the history of tech companies and the development of the internet before, I was thrilled to find that co-author team Jeff Chase and Jon Zilber did not write with any assumed knowledge on the part of the reader. They present a comprehensive and easy to follow history, with plenty of side notes and anecdotes that help connect all the pieces of 3Com’s important work to the technology that we know and rely upon now and in the future. The highs and lows of the business are recalled in a really readable, interesting way, with good organization and chronology to keep the timeline of events nice and clear. Overall, 3Com is a work which highlights the importance of innovation but also warns against bad planning and bad business for innovators of the future.

Christian Sia

Jeff Chase's 3Com: The Unsung Saga of the Silicon Valley Startup that Helped Give Birth to the Internet—and Then Fumbled the Ball is the well-written story of one of the tech companies that pioneered digital technology, a company I just learned about for the first time —a startling discovery, indeed! In this nonfiction business book, the author retells the story of the company that invented the essential networking components that made it possible for computers to speak with each other. The author takes readers through the history of the company, from its founders through the leadership and the prestige it enjoyed, exposing some of the pitfalls it experienced. Created in 1979, 3Com was one of these companies, but why was it short-lived, ceding place to icons like Cisco?

Jeff Chase looks at the history of this company, at the men and women behind it, and the incredible influence it had and lets readers in on some key elements on why the name eventually disappeared, almost wiped from memory. In this book, readers will encounter the founder and his philosophy and key players in the team, experts drawn from different walks of life and backgrounds, united by a vision to create something that changed lives, but why did they fail? That is the question with an answer that will surprise readers. The book is well researched and written in a style that is devoid of jargon, accessible and engaging. The book offers relevant lessons on vision, philosophy, and business culture, exposing the missing link that could have taken a silicon startup to great success. Inspiring and filled with a lot to think about, especially for business-minded readers.