Today little is spoken of the lost years from early 2002 to late 2005 in San Francisco. The years when the SOMA high-rises, now renting at record highs, stood half-constructed as a constant reminder of our paralyzed growth. The years when nearly all my friends had been laid off, some two or three times. When company culture didn’t mean squat and you just needed to shut up and be thankful you had a job. When working for a startup was anything but glamorous and not something I bragged about at parties.
More than decade has passed since the bust of 2001 and the ecosystem is again overflowing, this time with a new breed of starry-eyed brogrammers and wantrepreneurs in search of the “startup lifestyle“. I’m told how this era is completely different, often coupled dismissive comments like, “Shipping dog food? Um, duh!” As if the reasons for the near-decimation of an entire ecosystem can be summed up in a sentence or two. If you weren’t in the Bay Area on the front lines, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the depth of psychological and economic depression that lay heavy in the Valley for years.
On August 15, 2000, the startup I worked for laid off 75% of our staff with no notice or severance. I was one of the lucky ones who survived. That is, if by “lucky” you mean shoveling carnage while trying to keep a wounded crew marching forward. I wouldn’t want to relive it, but I wouldn’t trade it either. I learned more in those 6 years than most learn in 20 – an experience worthy of its own blog post someday. In 2004, deep in the bowels of the dark times, I was ready to move on. Craigslist, Monster and Hotjobs had exactly zero job listings for “supersparkle startup generalist” and the thought a corporate gig made my chest seize. So I went back to school. (Yeah, an MBA, suck it.)
All Hail Web 2.0
Sometime in late 2005, startups started peeking out from the shadows and tiptoeing into the light of the newly christened Web 2.0. The Valley heralded the return with due caution. Our wounds may have healed, but the scars remained as a reminder to temper our exuberance. And one magical day in March 2006, just as I feared my pursuit of higher education had been the most horrifically expensive mistake of my life, there it was. Buried among the Haas career site’s endless listing of MBA-jobs-not-for-me was a little 5 person startup in Palo Alto named EchoSign (now Adobe), the perfect home for my sparkling startup superstarness to blossom and thrive.
Now it’s 2013 and there are signs that the frenzy and exuberance of the past few years have come to bear. So what will happen this time? Could the fallout impact the economy and our collective spirits with the merciless force of 2001? Or will this be a kinder, gentler 2008ish “market correction”?
I will wager only one thing: we the survivors of Web 1.0 stand steadfast at attention. Should nuclear winter come again, our bunkers are stocked with the armor of defensive fund-raising and conservative spending, replete with ample ammunition of innovative products and the artillery to execute.
A startup junkie to the core, I’ve been launching and growing enterprise SaaS startups and platforms since way back in the last century. I am the Cofounder & CMO of SocialPandas, a social selling platform for B2B sales teams. Previously I launched LivePerson’s (LPSN) Apps Marketplace platform and was an early employee at Genius.com and EchoSign (acquired by Adobe). I love bacon, bourbon, hip hop and all things tech and hold an MBA from UC Berkeley (for which I am still not sorry).