If you type Pets.com into your browser today, you get redirected to a site for the retailer Pet Smart. But, 15 years ago, you would've been visiting one of the most popular Web sites to hit the Internet.
In its heyday, Pets.com -- and its talking sock puppet mascot -- were ubiquitous; the spokesdog was in a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl commercial, on a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and interviewed on TV shows like "Good Morning America." The company was draped in money from investors like Amazon and venture capital firms.
But, alas, Pets.com had an Achilles' heel. It wasn't profitable.
The online pet-supply store was never able to give pet owners a compelling reason to buy pet goods via the Internet. After ordering kitty litter, customers had to wait days to actually get it. Moreover, because the company had to undercharge for shipping costs to attract customers, it actually lost money on most of the items it sold.
Yet, that didn't stop Pets.com from going public. Just one and a half years after launching, Pets.com raised $82.5 million in an initial public offering. After months of dismal trading on Wall Street, Pets.com moved some of its operations from pricey San Francisco to the cheaper Midwest, laid off hundreds of employees, ratcheted down operations, and then completely petered out in nine short months after its IPO.
Coincidentally, Thursday is the same day that Twitter historically debuted on the New York Stock Exchange. Amid much fanfare, the social network kicked off trading with shares priced at $26. By the end of the day shares were up 73 percent to $44.94.
While Twitter has clearly studied the playbook to avoid mistakes of other tech companies that have gone public before it, the social network currently has that same Achilles' heel as Pets.com. So, the story of the failed e-tailer could serve as cautionary reminder of the ghost of dot-coms past.