Q: How do you get a dot-com CEO off your porch?
A: Pay him for the pizza.
It's a joke making the rounds of Silicon Valley and other digital dustbowls, but within it lies a slice of truth. In the topsy-turvy Net economy; where success was measured by the money a company spent, not by what it earned, few firms could last for long. And even if the company survived, the chief executive often didn't.
Aside from notable exceptions like Amazon's Jeff Bezos and eBay's Meg Whitman, many high-flying Net execs have been shot down, only to pursue other managerial avenues. George Shaheen, for example, ex-CEO of bankrupt online grocer Webvan, recently resurfaced on the board of Closedloop Solutions, a maker of financial software for CFOs. Jay Walker, the flamboyant force behind Priceline.com, now tends a new batch of startups at Walker Digital Media. Even Netscape co-founder Mark Andreessen's Loudcloud startup, which manages Web infrastructure for companies like Ford and Nike, staggered through 2001 with losses and layoffs.
The biggest bloodletting occurred in fall 2000, when nearly 500 CEOs left or lost their posts--mostly due to the dot-com collapse, says John Challenger of executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. "A lot of them were CEO-founder dot-commers," Gray says.
Scott Gordon, director of the technology practice for executive recruiter Spencer Stuart, notes that many Web startups suffered from "founderitis"--a condition where the firms' founders lacked the know-how or desire to take the company to the next level. "Passionate entrepreneurs often lack critical financial, strategic or people skills to continue forward progress, Gordon says.
But not all ex-Web CEOs are looking for jobs at Domino's. Some, like BabyCenter's Matt Glickman and Mark Selcow or Onebox.com's Bill Nguyen, saw their startups acquired before the NASDAQ bubble burst. Others, like iVillage's Candice Carpenter or Napster's Eileen Richardson, stepped down under pressure but went on to open new chapters in their lives. And there are some like RealNames' Keith Teare, who, because his company never went public and doesn't have to answer to a board, has held on and is sticking it out for the long haul.
For a few heady years in the late '90s, these top executives took a ride on the Internet roller coaster. They experienced giddy highs and dizzying drops, but all emerged wiser and no worse for wear. Here are the stories of what they did, what they would have done differently and what they learned along the way.
Names: Matt Glickman and Mark Selcow
Old job: Co-founders of BabyCenter
Status of startup: Merged with eToys in May 1999; now owned by Johnson & Johnson
Current titles: Partners in Merced Systems, an enterprise software startup
When Matt Glickman and Mark Selcow were Stanford graduate students, they knew one day they'd run a business together. But they never dreamed they'd give birth to...