PNC Bank Corp. is watching closely the outcome of a bankruptcy filing by a small Internet technology company, Nets Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.
Nets, headed by former Lotus Development Corp. CEO James Manzi, in September struck a deal under which PNC agreed to provide on-line payment and fund transfer services related to Nets' Internet-based shopping mall for industrial companies.
But Nets' Chapter 11 filing last week has forced Pittsburgh-based PNC to suspend its involvement.
"Obviously we haven't got the wherewithal to continue, and so the operation will cease," said Jonathan Williams, a spokesman for PNC. "We will evaluate the alternatives."
About 300,000 engineers and purchasing agents had signed up for industry.net, Nets' Web site that let them buy supplies and parts from about 4,500 companies.
Vendors paid $6,000 to $20,000 a year to Nets to set up shop in the electronic mall. Nets' business plan also called for collecting fees on each sale made by a participating vendor.
But its business faltered as an increasing number of vendors constructed Web sites that let them sell directly.
"I think it bit off more than a start-up can chew," said Bill Doyle, a senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge who worked at Nets for a short time. "It staked out bigger claims than it could support, and its target was impossibly broad."
Part of Nets' problem was that it entered a competitive market. General Electric Information Services (a unit of General Electric Corp.), Sterling Commerce, and International Business Machines Corp. all already sell services similar to what Nets was offering.
Though there appeared to be plenty of business to go around-Forrester Research estimates that business-to-business electronic commerce will grow to $66 billion by 2000-Nets did not have the size necessary to compete.
"Nets couldn't create the mother of all commerce platforms to serve different industries," said Mr. Doyle. "It would have been better to narrow in on a defined marketplace where it could really kill."
He added that a company the size of GE was better suited to create a service that spanned a variety of industries.
"In the end, closure was sudden and swift," said Mr. Doyle. "I don't expect to see Nets emerge from bankruptcy."
PNC's role involved setting up payment systems involving electronic data interchange and the automated clearing house network. Though the bank lost some money on the project, PNC officials view it as a learning experience. "I think it is important to state that if nothing goes forward with this company, it has been an extremely valuable period for us," said Mr. Williams.