Just over a year ago, before the high profile demise of Boo.com,
the dotcom industry proffered the Midas touch to those who dared to
leave their traditional, safe working environment and join the booming
The lure was obvious. Share options, the opportunity to make a
significant impact on company performance, and it was promising to be
the biggest thing since the industrial revolution.
Twelve months on and the picture has changed radically. Reality has hit
home, and those dotcoms that have survived are viewed with more clarity
and have had their market value substantially reduced. A recent survey
from the research group Webmergers.com has revealed that 147 dotcom
companies closed in the first quarter of this year compared with 222
failures during the whole of 2000. Of those 147 companies that closed,
more than two-thirds were in the provision of e-commerce or internet
content. And the amount spent on buying dotcom companies has drastically
fallen with dollars 2.2 billion spent on companies in the first quarter
of this year, compared with dollars 52 billion spent in the same period
A stint in dotcom land was a reality shock for many, as they turned up
for work in offices that were mere shells - a far cry from the plush,
cosy office environment which they enjoyed during their previous
People had to learn how to use fax machines - no PA to do it for
Sometimes they even had to go and buy the damn things.
Of course, dotcom entrepreneurs were helping to build a brand that was
completely new, and in the process learned the real value of established
brands. People who had once welcomed them with open arms were now less
willing to listen, and hawking their new-media wares was an uphill
Rather tellingly, there seem to have been more people from media
backgrounds who opted to join the dotcom brigade, than those from
Perhaps the latter felt the opportunities for being creative in the
new-media environment were more limiting; plus the salary rises were
probably less meteoric compared with those that are paid to media
employees. But whatever their background, many of those who were hoping
to be dotcom millionaires have come back down to earth. And many have
found themselves returning to their old stomping grounds in media and
On the whole, there seem to be few people who regret their sojourn into
the dotcom world. Most describe it as an invaluable time which helped to
broaden their experience and significantly plump up their business
acumen. It provided a steep learning curve and allowed them to take on
responsibilities that they had rarely, if ever, been exposed to
It definitely was no picnic for most but ultimately it seems to have
toughened people's resolve and put their ambitions into perspective.
Campaign talked to three senior industry people who left the media and
advertising world to join a dotcom and seek their fortune, before
deciding to return to their conventional roots.
Adam Crow, the press buying director at Universal McCann, left the
comforts of MindShare to help launch the Jewish website Totally plc.
'I have no regrets at all about my sojourn into dotcom land. It was
absolutely no fun whatsoever, but the learning curve was huge. I always
viewed as it a win-win situation. If it worked out then that was cool,
and if not I could return to media.
'As you progress up the media ladder the comfort zone factor grows as
well as your waistline. You know all your colleagues and you can do your
job standing on your head. But when you are offered the opportunity to
get actively involved in the setting up and running of your own
business, it becomes a no-brainer.
'I learned more in seven months than I have in the past seven years
about business, deadlines and profit and loss accounting. But most
importantly, I learned about myself.
'Experiencing the extreme highs and lows of the emotional dotcom
rollercoaster takes you beyond the limits you thought you were capable
of, and achieving the impossible becomes an everyday task. You also find
out who your true friends are and how quickly you are forgotten.
'Anyone who has worked in a large corporate infrastructure takes things
such as having their own desk, chair and phone for granted. So imagine
my shock when I arrived at Totally plc to find that these were not
available on day one. That, combined with a red hot office without
windows, and you get the picture of my environment. The compensation was
that I was a board director of a publicly listed company.
'Working at Totally plc massively changed my outlook on work. I feel
less of a charlatan pretending I know about business because the
experience taught me to speak cogently and appreciate the pressure that
'It definitely charged me with a more entrepreneurial spirit. When every
contribution you make to the bottom line ensures survival you find the
most creative ways to generate revenue.
'I think it's made me a much more valuable employee. It is amazing how
blind you can be until you open eyes, your mind and your bank
'If you are up for a real mind scramble and prepared to work seven days
a week, the dotcom world is for you. But to all those who feel that
media is the 'real' world, please take a step back and have a long hard
I cannot stress how cold it is out there and must admit that the
'unreal' world of media is a much more preferable place to be.'
Red Cell Network
Nick Kerr is the managing director of the creative agency Red Cell
Network, but left the advertising world last year. He was a managing
partner at TBWA GGT Simons Palmer, which he left to work on an online
teen magazine, 2slice, which ceased to exist last August.
'Like most decisions my decision to join the dotcom world was based on a
number of things coming together at once. Firstly, I felt that there was
an enormously exciting revolution going on that would cause fundamental
changes in the way so many things were done. I had to choose between
carrying on doing more of what I had been doing for almost 20 years, or
get involved. For me it wasn't much of a choice.
'The second factor was that I was approached by some talented people
with what seemed like a very strong idea at the time.
'The third factor was that every day you would read about the huge
fortunes being made. I can't pretend that didn't have some bearing on my
decision to go into the dotcom world.
'There were lots of things that I learned. The real power of money.
How much over-stretched clients must value and appreciate quality work,
excellent service and having problems taken off their hands. But at the
same time how any of these in isolation is of limited value.
'I learned too about the value of objective advice. It's too easy to
interpret evidence in a way that suits what you want. The more you want
something to be the case, the more this is so. Sometimes the bravest
thing to do is to say no, even when you really want to say yes.
'I think I had quite a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in me before going
to 2slice. I was involved in starting up BST in the early 90s and to
succeed in the kind of agencies I have worked in you need
entrepreneurial skills anyway.
'I do, however, feel that it has made me a more valuable employee. I
have learned about being a 'client', and putting your own balls on the
line which teaches you things you don't learn in a hundred years of
Just knowing what it looks like from the other side is enormously
'It also helps to know that I didn't automatically put advertising at
the top of the list when we were planning our launch.
'I don't have any regrets, except that I wish it had been a huge
success. I would always encourage people to have a go. And if it doesn't
work? - I'd always rather employ people who are prepared to have a
'Fortunately I'm not back in a traditional agency environment. I think I
might have found that quite difficult. Red Cell is a whole new way of
working for me. It's pretty much like launching a new business.'
Tess McCleod-Smith, the group commercial director for the National
Magazine Company's Affluent Group, left Conde Nast last year, where she
was an associate publisher of Vogue, to help set up the property service
'I have no regrets about what I did. In those eight months at Smove I
learned more about business in a very broad sense than I have done in
years. I learned the fundamentals of running a business. It was very
hands-on and you had to do everything yourself.
'Smove was not only a new product online, but a new brand no-one had
ever heard of, so it really tested my commercial abilities. It tested my
nerve to pick up the phone and meet people who knew nothing about the
'I had to go into funding pitches and found myself in situations that I
would have been far removed from when I was at Conde Nast. It definitely
gave me an entrepreneurial spirit and showed me that that side of things
could be fun.
'With Smove I realised the power of brands - Smove wasn't a brand and we
needed the money to help build it. It also made me realise how powerful
magazines are. I thought dotcoms were it when I joined Smove, but as you
got into e-commerce you realised people weren't buying much online, but
people do buy things from magazines.
'In magazines you have advertising and circulation where there is
genuine revenue - dotcom advertising is fine but the reality during my
time there was that people weren't buying, so a major revenue source
'Smove launched last May and we had to get a second round of funding
immediately. The property market was very competitive and we were bought
by Asserta Home which killed the Smove brand. For me it became a very
different thing and I became part of a big corporate company.
'If I hadn't done a dotcom job I wouldn't have moved from Conde Nast,
and my role at Nat Mags is much bigger.
'It's nice to be back in the magazine industry because you miss the
support network of a larger company. If someone said to me they were
joining a dotcom I would advise them to study the business plan, see who
is funding it and how long they are committed for.
'I can't deny that a dotcom offered the potential to earn, through share
options, life changing money - but you soon realised that an IPO would
take two or three years to happen in order for that sort of money to
'Ultimately, the experience made people see me as a businesswoman and it
gave me more credibility - I didn't just talk Manolo Blahniks.'