Dear Dottie Downturn

Back by popular demand, Salon's mistress of new-economy etiquette offers advice to troubled dot-commers.


Salon Staff
July 25, 2000 11:01PM (UTC)

Dear Dottie Downturn,
The privately held company that I work for recently announced that it was going to IPO and offer employees options. It sounded like great news, but now senior execs are jumping ship! Should I be concerned?
Itching to IPO

Dear Itching,
Dottie Downturn is perplexed. What exactly is the problem? Just because the executives most likely to be aware of the bottomless pit that is your business plan are exiting, stage left, doesn't mean that your company won't be able to successfully go public. After all, the venture capitalists and investment bankers will still make a killing on the first day of trading. Perhaps they won't score as much loot as they would have a year ago, but they'll still gather up enough to keep their kids in prep school.

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You should be proud, not concerned. Today's market conditions are a far cry from the golden age of yesteryear, when all you needed was a Web site and a couple of Java programmers and you could name your opening IPO price. It takes true grit to announce plans to offer shares on the stock market right now. Dottie Downturn's heart is gladdened to hear that there are still some stalwart souls in the valley.

Indeed, all the wailing and moaning about depressed share prices in recent weeks has left Dottie Downturn feeling somewhat miffed. She wonders how people have managed to forget that the new economy was never meant to get everybody rich. What's crucial is that the investors who contribute to venture capital funds, and the bankers who manage the public offerings, get their shot for greedy glory on IPO day. What happens to the company six months or a year down the line is hardly the point! If Dottie Downturn were inclined to use vulgar language, she might contemplate advising all those start-up whiners to suck it up! Remember, Starbucks is always hiring.

Dear Dottie Downturn,
A year and a half ago, I turned down an offer to work at another company because the work there was as interesting as watching a large banner ad repaint on a 9600-baud dial-in line. But now the company's being bought, and the employees are all expecting to get disgustingly rich. Meanwhile, the share price of the company where I now work is sinking below the $1 level. (But at least the place is fun.) I could probably get in at the other place, but I can't decide. Bucks and boredom? Or enjoy myself until that last big layoff?
Sorry in Sunnyvale

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Dear Sorry,
Dottie Downturn has always been mystified by the recurring belief so predominant in Western culture that work should be "interesting" or "fun." It's like imagining that love is a necessary adjunct to marriage. This misguided wish for complete fulfillment is a big no-no.

Dottie Downturn has always believed that Buddha had a better grasp on essentials: Once you have learned to extinguish desire, you are free. And what better locale for desire annihilation could one imagine than a typical e-commerce start-up (preferably B2B2C) featuring 5-foot-square cubicles and Dilbertian product managers? Dottie Downturn is sorry, Sorry, but your selfish need to have fun is bound to prevent you from ever achieving true happiness.

Dear Dottie Downturn,
I was interviewed by a local reporter for a story on dot-com life. In addition to focusing on the long hours and lack of a social life I and many other geeks have, I had the amazing hubris to mention that being worth a shitload of money due to piles of stock I held was a decent silver lining. By the time the article was published six weeks later, the stock price had dropped 60 points for a 500 percent loss. Friends, family and co-workers with high strike prices have delighted in pointing out that in addition to appearing shallow and smug in the article, I now seem horribly stupid. So my question is this: Should I buy a shotgun and kill them all and then myself, or keep it simple and just kill myself?
Trigger-happy in Tiburon

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Dear Trigger-happy,
Dottie Downturn cannot put herself in the position of condoning or recommending violence, even though she will confess that at times she has idly fantasized about laying waste at Comdex with a couple of well-placed Exocet missiles. But your rage is misplaced. Neither your friends, your family, nor you are guilty of any sin.

The real culprit here is the reporter who wrote the story on dot-com life that got you into trouble -- and quite possibly kicked off the chain of events that negatively impacted your company's stock price. Dottie Downturn has often wondered whether we wouldn't all be better off if the press just, well, went away. For instance, one can easily trace the current dot-com shakeout to comments made last year by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. But what if no one had reported his irrational pessimism? We would all still be raking in V.C. cash hand over fist, blissfully carefree.

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Dottie Downturn is aware that the press has a legitimate role to play in stoking up the hype necessary to inflate a given market sector into buzzy exuberance. But that hype comes at too steep a price. In blithe disregard of the reality that their salaries are paid for by dot-com advertising dollars, reporters feel a spiteful need to tear down everything they build up. Shame, shame, says Dottie Downturn. Perhaps they should care a little less about pumping up their own circulation figures and a little more about the feelings of the people whose lives they so callously toy with.

Dear Dottie Downturn,
i recently retired from sbc and i am doing some lite (2 OR 3 moves a week) day trading, and i am doing pretty good. Should i tell my (still working) friends how good i'm doing and appear to be a jerk. Or should i just keep quite about my success?
Stinking Rich in San Rafael

Dear Stinking Rich,
Dottie Downturn's first impulse is to advise you to study some textbooks on grammar and spelling. Just because the medium is digital doesn't mean punctuation and proper capitalization should be ignored. It greatly saddens Dottie Downturn that the Internet facilitates such mental sloppiness. How can we expect to build a new, improved form of capitalism if we can't express ourselves elegantly?

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As for your day-trading exploits -- Dottie Downturn wonders just how "good" is "pretty good." If we're talking serious numbers, Dottie Downturn is tempted to suggest that this conversation be taken "offline."

But Dottie Downturn understands the urge to preen about your success. As always, it's all a question of style. One does not call one's friends, who may still be working 70 or 80 hours a week for options that are headed underwater, and start babbling about the killing one made short-selling Amazon.

A more subtle approach is called for: Take your friend out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and pick up the check. When he or she protests, just shrug and note casually that with all the easy money you are making day trading, it's only fair for you to pay the bill. And make sure to leave a healthy tip. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, where waiters may be artists who have been forced to move out of the Mission and into Benicia or Hayward because of the success of people like you, it is thoughtful to spread your largess with a wide net. You don't want that $100 bottle of red wine to "accidentally" spill on your Hugo Boss shirt, do you?

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Dear Dottie Downturn,
I'm the CEO of a struggling B2B start-up. When times were better, I got a tattoo of our company's logo -- don't ask where -- in front of the whole team. It was great for team building, and it also made for a handy gimmick to show off to reporters. But now we're having layoffs, and our prospects are increasingly grim. If the company goes down, should I keep the tattoo? Or is it my cross to bear?
Just Glad It Wasn't Scarification in Scarsdale

Dear Just Glad,
Dottie Downturn often wishes she had invested in laser tattoo removal technology back in the early '90s -- perhaps she would be finding a better way to spend her time in the 21st century than answering questions from people dumb enough to physically brand themselves with corporate advertising. Still, Dottie Downturn must admit that there may be a silver lining beneath your pinpricks. Remember the scene in "Jaws" where Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider compared their scars? Perhaps, a few years or decades hence, grizzled dot-com veterans will be sitting in a hot tub somewhere in Mill Valley showing off the various marks of their corporate patronage. Perhaps they will even gain the status of some latter-day digital yakuza -- but instead of intimidating people with their amputated fingers, they'll display their logoed chests.

Or perhaps not.

Dear Dottie Downturn,
I work for an incubator with some pretty well-known founders, but they recently paid $7.5 million for the domain name of a company that sells nothing and has no visible revenue stream. Now they want me to take over as CEO, but I think they're setting me up for a fall. Should I take the job or tell them the truth?
Hatched in Hollywood

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Dear Hatched,
Dottie Downturn has always been repulsed by the whole concept of "incubators." Start-ups are not cuddly little chicks, pulsing with warmth and life. Start-ups are soulless mechanisms for extracting labor from workers and capital from investors without generating positive outflow. Start-ups aren't "hatched" -- they are orchestrated, plotted and schemed.

That said, Dottie Downturn sees nothing wrong, in principle, with spending $7.5 million for a domain name. Au contraire -- spending millions of dollars for nothing is the bedrock upon which the Internet economy is based. If people started valuing things at what they were actually worth, the world would be a much, much poorer place.

Dear Dottie Downturn,
A Sand Hill Road V.C. firm agreed to fund us a month ago, singing our praises to the press. But behind the scenes, they've started telling me, the CEO, that if we don't turn a profit by September, they'll pull the plug. September seems too soon to me; we are, after all, in the A2B2C2B2A space. Should I tell them to stuff it, or should I be grateful for their money?
Petrified in Palo Alto

Dear Petrified,
Venture capitalists are demanding a profit? Silly, silly boys. It's bad enough that Yahoo is in the black, making everybody else look bad. Dottie Downturn thinks it would be best for everyone if no one made any money -- that would be sure to keep the funding spigot wide open.

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But it's always the short-sightedness of a few that spoils the fun for the rest of us. As for you, hold firm. Not only is it economically risky to attempt to make a profit too early in a start-up's life, but it's in extremely bad taste as well. Take heart from the example set by companies like Transmeta -- which has already burned through well over $100 million in funding but may not make a profit until the next millennium.

And how about you, dear reader? Do you have qualms about proper behavior in the new dot-com economy? Please send all questions to Dottie Downturn.


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