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Here today, dot-gone tomorrow

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By ROBERT TRIGAUX

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


At first glance, the image of a loving, older couple is rather touching. At least until you read the accompanying quote.

"We invested our grandchildren's inheritance in DrKoop.com."

For investors lucky enough to have overlooked DrKoop.com, it's the Internet health business built on the trusted name of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. After going public, the Web company soared on the hopes of day traders and other investors in the summer of 1999. But a stock that once approached $40 per share now trades at 40 cents.


The fictitious, Koop-seduced couple appears on a Web site (which we must call www.f---edcompany.com in this newspaper) that chronicles the quickly accelerating slaughter of Internet-based businesses.

The couple's image and memorable quote are available emblazoned on a mouse pad -- yours for $15 at the Web site. If that doesn't quite hit the Internet funny bone, consider a comparably priced mouse pad that depicts a hair dryer with an arrow pointing to the hot-air switch.

The caption: "Press button to hear marketing presentation."

When business bubbles burst, gallows humor blossoms. These dark days, Internet investors, Web business founders and their employees must be positively rolling in the aisles.

One Internet company that sells wine (http://www.secretcellars.com) turned Web adversity into a contest. The Web business offered a $1,500 bottle of Screaming Eagle red wine to the dot-com refugee who could write the saddest tale of an Internet company gone sour. The "whine for wine" contest attracted more than 2,300 entries.

The grand winner: San Francisco's 31-year-old Scott Bingham, who was laid off from eGreetings.com "Now I'm broke and work for a free porn Web site," he wrote. "My mother cries when she sees me."

Let the Internet numbers tell their own story:

In January 2000, 303 dot-com jobs were cut. In May, after the Nasdaq tech meltdown, 2,660 dot-com jobs were axed. Last month alone, 12,828 dot-com jobs disappeared.

In all, almost 55,000 jobs at dot-com businesses have been wiped out since December 1999.

From January through June 2000, dot-com job-cut announcements totaled 5,097. But between July and December, 36,177 cuts were announced. That's a 600 percent jump.

Most of the job cuts come from dot-com companies specializing in services, such as consulting, financial and information. Internet retail companies were the second-largest job cutters with more than 10,000, according to outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.

As of Friday, 205 Web-based companies were listed at www.f--edcompany.com in order of their demise since May.

More failed Internet companies will be listed tomorrow. And the day after.

A recent "DotComDoom" poll asked: "How many dot-coms will close down by the end of the year?" The most pessimistic of the multiple choice answers, "more than 40 percent," was picked by 42 percent of respondents.

The pattern for Net investor and worker is growing familiar. Initial dot-com enthusiasm fades to a struggle for survival and ends at R.I.P. From dot-com to dot-bomb to dot-gone. Dot's all, folks.

It's happening in all forms and sizes.

Disney shut down its Toysmart.com Web site last spring. Earlier this year, Disney said it will ax 400 people as it shutters another Internet attempt at its Go.com site. Giant Net retailer Amazon.com recently unveiled plans to cut 1,300 jobs. Los Angeles toy seller eToys on Monday said it has told the remainder of its staff they will be out of a job this April.

In Florida, Miami's young Yupi.com company is slicing 90 positions. Localbusiness.com, a Fort Lauderdale news service that covers the dot-com business scene, trimmed 27 percent of its staff late last year.

In the Tampa Bay area, we've seen Clearwater's BusinessMall.com fight to stay out of bankruptcy and Tampa's corporate staffing company Kforce.com go from a Super Bowl advertiser last year to a company trying to win back Wall Street's confidence.

Pink slip parties for laid-off dot-com workers in need of networking have spread east from Silicon Valley and hit New York and Washington, D.C. In Miami, a pink slip party attracted 400 stricken Net veterans in what was described as an "atmosphere reminiscent of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting."

So far, the bay area hasn't seen any formal pink slip gatherings. Does that make us tech-lucky or just tech-deficient?

Sure, the dot-com climate looks nasty. The downward Net trend in a generally weakening economy makes it feel all the worse.

Take courage, and some perspective.

Dot-com layoffs may be soaring, but the numbers are modest. If about 55,000 dot-com jobs were lost in the past 13 months, that's still a minor-league number in the general economy. In January, U.S. employers announced plans to cut 142,208 jobs, the largest job-cut month in more than eight years.

And while the U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 4.2 percent in January from 4 percent in December, that figure is still considered very low.

Remember, the underlying potential of the Internet remains intact even after all that silly money was burned up fueling so many silly business ideas.

That's a sober note after so many heady and wealthmaking years in the Web world.

Perhaps the Industry Standard, the magazine that covers the Internet economy, sums up our digital anxiety best: "Will the latte go the way of the three-martini lunch?"

- Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

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