So Long Silicon Alley, Hello Life
Last August, when online gift-currency company Flooz.com ceased operations, then-CEO Robert Levitan remembers thinking, "It's bad, but it's not a matter of life and death." A month later, it was. And ever since, Levitan has been volunteering for post-September 11 and other relief efforts.
In the two years since dot-coms started failing en masse, thousands of workers in New York's "Silicon Alley" -- the downtown neighborhood that briefly became a mecca for Internet companies -- have lost their jobs. More than 6,000 were laid off in 2001 alone, according to published reports, while others voluntarily left their jobs a step or two ahead of the grim reaper.
That trend now has abated -- the monthly Pink Slip Party thrown by consultancy thehiredguns.com went to every other month in February -- as the former dot-commers have proven that there's life after the Web in traditional companies, consultancies, and even a few startups. Several have written books, and a number of others are embracing domesticity.
FALL FROM THE TOP.
In many ways, the experiences of Silicon Alley denizens form a microcosm of life after the Web across the country. About 50% of Alley-ites who were laid off within the past year have found other work, estimates Alan Cutter, CEO of executive-recruitment firm AC Lion, while perhaps 20% have entered graduate school.
Web-hosting company Digex and software developer Siebel Systems are scooping up ex-Web programmers and revenue-generating salespeople -- employees with experience beyond the Web. The least lucky, says Cutter, are those who went straight from school to the top of a dot-com. "They're pretty screwed right now," he says.
Not all of the former CEOs are anxious to get back to the 60-hour-week grind. Former iVillage CEO Candice Olson -- Candice Carpenter before her recent marriage to Random House CEO Peter Olson -- has announced that her official title now is wife and mother. And author. She's writing her second book -- about the ways in which workplace trends affect the self-image and relationships of women. She says even young former dot-commers are seeking a lower intensity level: "I don't know many people who are saying, 'Oh, let's do that again' right now."
Allison Abraham certainly isn't. After she became pregnant with her second child, the former iVillage chief operating officer left the women's site in June 2000, taking a double-digit salary cut to $200,000 to become president of LifeMinders, an e-mail marketing company in Herndon, Va. Abraham left LifeMinders in October after its sale to Cross Media and is in no hurry to go back to work. "I'm doing all those things I didn't do for six years," she says. "I missed my 15-month-old son's entire baby life."
From 1996 to 2001, James Marciano started and ran three dot-coms, eventually selling two of them and retiring from the third. Last May, after selling Ivy League networking site TheSquare.com, he took six months "to reconnect with friends and family." He adopted a dog. And rather than start another company, he invested in someone else's -- HurryDate, a service that sells packages of 25 three-minute dates. The registration process is the only portion of the company that's online.
Others are turning to the land to soothe their harried post-dot-com nerves. Josh Harris, former CEO of Netcast-company Pseudo.com, has bought an apple orchard in upstate New York. John Rigos, former entrepreneur-in-residence for idealab!, is breeding horses on a farm in New York's Catskills mountains.
WRITE ALL ABOUT IT.
Among the highest-profile former CEOs, govWorks' Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, star of the documentary Startup.com, has cofounded consultancy Recognition Group with Tom Herman, former govWorks chief technology officer (the two reconciled shortly after the rift portrayed in the film, in which Tuzman fires his friend and has him escorted out of the company's offices).
Tuzman also has a book on his dot-com experiences due out from Harvard Business School Press in December. Theglobe.com's Stephan Paternot has already written a book, A Very Public Offering (Wiley, July 2001), and is pursuing a new, very public career: acting.
By contrast, Paternot's former partner, Todd Krizelman, has just finished his first year at Harvard Business School. Virginia Foster, a Columbia Business School student and former director of business development at Prefer Network, an online catalog-distribution company, has her sights set on landing at "a company that has an established product and is a market leader."
She's hardly alone. Heidi Miller, who earlier went from the chief financial officer spot at Citigroup to Priceline.com, is back at an old-economy stalwart, Bank One. Andrew Bein, former general manager of the defunct networking site sixdegrees, is managing Reader's Digest's digital-business group. His former colleague, Shoshana Zilberberg, is director of interactive-product development at CableVision.
Even among a group known for its entrepreneurial zeal, sixdegrees' founder, Andrew Weinreich, stands out. His new startup, Joltage, provides high-speed wireless Internet access. "There are no big players -- it's a wide-open space," Weinreich says with a hint of the old dot-com ardor.
Meanwhile, former Flooz.com CEO Levitan is ready to get back to work. He recently flew to Beijing to help publishing conglomerate Pearson set up a new-media venture to teach English to Chinese citizens. Like Weinreich, he says, "I'm addicted to the entrepreneurial thing." And like many former dot-commers who have been sprung from their 24/7 work schedule, he's dating a lot these days -- just another sign that for many ex-Web workers, life is returning to normal.
By Karen Angel in New York