The great thing about the so-called new e-conomy is that it has introduced a whole set of new euphemisms into business speak. Only last week, Amazon, that giant of e-commerce, the first great virtual retailer, and the subject of more MBA dissertations than any other company, saw its shares plummet by 20 per cent after fears that it could not sustain the sort of losses it continues to post.
Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, told The Guardian that there was an “irrational under-exuberance for the potential of the internet”.
It has not only been computer geeks, garage entrepreneurs and pony-tailed media types who have been setting up shop in the virtual world or taking stock option-loaded salaries with existing players – lawyers have felt the pull too. For some firms it has meant the building (or at least marketing) of a new dedicated unit, department or even company specialising in advising on everything from IP to IPO. But in some areas the pull has been more personal, with lawyers packing their bags and moving to the new lofts in Hoxton, or Silicon Alley, as it is becoming known.
In the past few weeks, Linklaters lost its second lawyer to Cognition Ventures, a venture capitalist business specialising in new media. Amazon poached someone from Morgan Lewis & Bockius and, in a trend likely to become more prevalent, one of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s top partners left to set up his own internet company.
But Bezos believes there is a “reverse hype” where Cassandras and others with raised eyebrows tut tut and predict the downfall of western capitalism – or at least the Nasdaq-listed part of it.
And so suitably qualified lawyers are left with a difficult decision. Stay on the partnership ladder/slippery pole or make the leap to an undoubtedly exciting, potentially hugely lucrative, but possibly short-lived dotcom.
So, in the spirit of one who has been there, let me offer five things that you should expect to encounter if you make the leap.
1 -The hierarchies are different. A lot of dotcommers started with a couple of mates and a laptop. It is the equivalent of the pop bands of the 1960s. They do not want, or cannot see, a way to create a hierarchical management structure. Everything is flat with the chief executive officer, chief technology officer, chief operating officer et al selling themselves as part of the team. But this is not true of those traditional companies trying to muscle into the virtual business world. They still have traditional managements, and often three or four of them trying to run the show from different offices.
2 -The speed is different. So called “internet time” is a “no-brainer”, as they say. Regardless of how true the thesis that time and business have to move faster in the dotcom world, they believe it and that is all that matters. Expect a continuum from urgency, through panic, to Zennist calm – see number five below.
3 -The horizon is different. When your business plan is on the back of a Rizla packet and the venture capitalists are champing at the bit for an early IPO, long-termism is not the name of the game. What is more, the future shifts as the dotcommers eye new tie-ups, deals, alliances and such. You may start the week thinking you’re heading one way, and by the end of the week you are pointing in entirely the opposite direction.
4 -The boundaries are different. Dotcommers have convinced themselves that theirs is an organic business where the team “gels” and brainstorming and ideas drive the operation. Expect a lot of “help”.
5 -The culture in a dotcom is different from the real world. Or at least, those in it would like to think so. Expect table football games and obligatory Quake games as part of team-building exercises. Also expect continuous coffee runs to the local latte bar – it’s not only the computers that are wired. Oh, and get used to feeling old. Even if you are under 30 now, you will still feel in your mid-50s. Finally, enthusiasm is compulsory. There may be an “under-exuberance” about the dotcom world outside, but inside they just think the rest of us are “irrational”.