I'm hypnotized at my computer, watching the NASDAQ collapse, when e-mail pops up reminding me of our biweekly company meeting. Eighty or so Keen.com employees gather around our CEO, Karl Jacob. "Well," he says, "we all know what happened in the market today."
Yeah. The world ended. The fact that the NASDAQ may have hit a new high by the time you read these words doesn't erase the vague sense in dotcomland that the party, if not quite over, is definitely winding down. It's behemoths like Cisco and Intel that are keeping the NASDAQ afloat. The Web bubble is bursting. Has burst. Which means that some of us now roaring toward online glory may instead face that Wile E. Coyote moment when you look down and realize you just sprinted off a cliff.
At my firm, of course, we're fine. Those jerks down the block may obsess about IPO millions, but here at Keen.com we care only about building a great business by continually improving our products and better serving our customers' needs...O.K., the truth: if you just bet your career on a Web play (as I did, leaving TIME a few weeks ago), the last thing you want to deal with is reality. "Please let the market hold," said a colleague last week with a shaky laugh.
But does the market really matter? Karl has one message--Suck it up--and two themes. Theme No. 1: Everything Is Different. The NASDAQ's woes don't affect us directly--we don't have a steady supply of paper clips yet, let alone public stock--but our industry's free ride is clearly over. The men are about to be separated from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the Yahoos from the yahoos. And--oh, my, Greenspan--we can't go public at the drop of a business plan anymore. "It's going to be much harder under these conditions," Karl warns. "The model has to be that much more ironclad."
And we're the lucky ones. In January, Keen.com scored a startling $60 million in venture capital, easy money that's getting scarcer. We gleefully imagine our rivals going broke while we ride out the Web's long, hard winter and emerge the big winner. After all, we aren't just me-too e-commerce hacks; we have a novel business model. We're running trippy TV ads. Hey, we even have revenue! We just have to work hard, Karl insists, and we'll win.
Which brings us to Theme No. 2: Nothing Is Different. We were frantic and exhausted two weeks ago, and still are today. We still have to create a brand-new business out of thin air under crushing deadlines and immense competitive pressure for stakes higher than most of us care to consider--i.e., sudden wealth vs. abject humiliation only partly mitigated by the likelihood of landing a new and even more lucrative gig if this one tanks.
So we take solace in, of all things, the long view. Forget the NASDAQ and going public, Karl says. Last year's IPO darling is this year's sinkhole. What matters is our 2003 bottom line, and that means--sing along, kids--building a great business by continually improving our products and better serving our customers' needs.
Sigh. Back to our cramped cubicles. New economy, my ass.
Michael Krantz is editorial director of Keen.com