Confessions of a Dot Com Cliché
A former dot commie reflects on the hard lessons of the Internet gold rush.
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I am a cliché.

Yes, it's true. At age 36, I have officially become a nameless, faceless member of a burgeoning subculture: former dot com workers. Oh, you remember us. We are the same people who, a couple of years ago, set forth on a divine mission.

With very little practical business experience and lots of undeserved investment capital, we would build billion-dollar companies, wear shorts to work and retire in four years.

Sure, many dot coms had business plans that could have been written by 5-year-olds. But who had time for minor details like that when there was so much money to be hoarded?

Well, as you may have heard, our dot com dreams burst like the pimples on the faces of our 17-year-old computer programmers. And now, as the press gloats and NASDAQ proceeds in its downward "adjustment," we, the living, the clichéd, are left to hang out with a bunch of loser screenwriters in coffee shops and wonder where it all went wrong.

It Won't Last
I recall the expression of dismay on my father's face a few years back as I tried to explain "the new way of doing business," peppering my explanation with pretentious terms like "leverage" and "optimize" and "community."

"What do these companies sell?" he asked.

"Many don't really sell anything," I replied confidently, "but that doesn't matter anymore. It's all about stock valuation and going public at the right time."

My father, a retired engineer who worked his entire life in heavy industry, shrugged and said, "That's idiotic. It won't last."

And it didn't. The dot com gold rush ended as quickly as it began. When the market crashed last year, it was too late for many start-ups on the IPO track.

One pathetic dot com in San Francisco reportedly invested a considerable amount of money in customized promotion crap. Its plan was to sell this junk to customers who would, no doubt, snatch up any items festooned with the logo of the company that changed the way the world did business. When no takers came forward, the company decided to revise its business plan to wow the venture capitalists: The company could generate "significant" amounts of money by selling the promotion crap to its own employees.

How desperate. How idiotic. How dot com.

Lessons Learned?
In the wake of my own departure from dot com life, it all seems so clear. Here, in the coffee shop, with my fellow clichés and the ever-present screenwriters, I read the Industry standard and watch the shakeout continue. Dot coms are dying each day, victims of hubris, stupidity and, of course, the unquenchable human thirst for a robust stock portfolio. Even Amazon.com now has problems.

As I reflect on my dot com experience, I feel an overwhelming urge to work for a brick-and-mortar company- -you know, one of those that business analysts last year called "dinosaurs." I want to work for General Motors; I want to see and touch those Chevy Impalas as they roll off the assembly line, and then know that some customer out there will pay money for them. I crave healthy revenue streams.

Have I learned my lesson? Oh, yes.

Uh, maybe. I recently spoke with a recruiter from a "new-media venture"- -they no longer call them dot coms because of the negative connotation- -about several job openings at the firm. Bile rose in my throat as this siren waxed enthusiastic about "leveraging" and "maximizing" blah blah blah.

When she finished, I opened my mouth to soundly rebuke her, to rail against bad business plans, myopia and technological bullshit, only to gasp in horror as I heard myself say, "How much does it pay?"

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