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For one woman, bubble's burst meant pink slip

[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
Susan Bross, who lost her job when CouponBasket.com folded, says, "I knew what I was getting into when I joined."

By KRIS HUNDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


Now Bross, who is in her early 40s, is unemployed. Yet she tries to be upbeat about her short-lived career with the now-defunct St. Petersburg Internet company.

"I knew what I was getting into when I joined and I still believe in the concept," the Safety Harbor resident said. "But we just hit a time in the market when people weren't putting their money into dot-com start-ups."

CouponBasket, founded by Silver Springs businessman Larry Wiseman, has been liquidated. Its Web site sits unfinished. Its 20 employees, let go just before Halloween, are back in the job market. And Wiseman is taking a breather. He took what he calls "a seven-figure hit" when his Web wanna-be collapsed.

Wiseman had been working out his business plan for about 18 months when Bross joined the company in June. About $1-million had been raised from family and friends, focus groups had been held and a Web design company had been hired.

Bross was vice president of information technology at Catalina, which provides machines that spit out coupons at supermarkets and operates a Web site. Bross first heard of the opening at CouponBasket through a consultant.

"I was immediately attracted to the work they were going to do on the site," she said. "Being the primary shopper in my family, especially at the grocery store, I was attracted to the site, which helped you put together an efficient shopping list, then print out coupons for those items."

Bross left Catalina, where she supervised a staff of 100, to become the information technology person at CouponBasket.

"I had no administrative assistant, no employees, no infrastructure," said Bross, who worked closely with the company's marketing person as well as its Web designer.

But Bross said she liked the pace and lack of hierarchy at CouponBasket. "Getting a signature and getting a decision was quick," she said. "And from the beginning, I was involved in senior management meetings. I felt that I had a significant role that contributed to the company."

As a senior manager, Bross was among the first to get the word in September that a potential investor had suddenly changed his mind.

"We kept a two-pronged approach," Bross said. "We had three competent people trying to find funding for us. Meanwhile, we needed to launch the site; we couldn't slow down."

By the end of October, however, Wiseman and his top executives ran out of both options and operating cash.

"People obviously knew it was a possibility, but you're still in disbelief it's really happening," Bross said. The small group of workers hugged and exchanged phone numbers before abandoning CouponBasket's downtown St. Petersburg offices.

Bross, who is married and has two daughters ages 16 and 11, decided to give herself a vacation through the Christmas holidays. "I told myself that after I put away the holiday decorations, I would redo my resume and start back networking," she said.

By late January, she had taken two interviews, both for chief information officer at midsize companies in the Tampa Bay area. Neither is a dot-com. She's optimistic that something will materialize by March.

"I gained some experience from my time with CouponBasket so that's always a positive," she said. "And I'm not alone in being laid off by a dot-com. I truly have no regrets. I'd even do a start-up again if I believed in it."

Recent coverage

Deflated dreams (February 11, 2001)

From bandwagon to near bust (February 11, 2001)

Different century, different bubble (February 11, 2001)

A tale of two venture capitalists (February 11, 2001)

Day trading temptations tempered (February 11, 2001)

Here today, dot-gone tomorrow (February 11, 2001)

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