From: Adam Rifkin (adam@KnowNow.com)
Date: Thu Dec 28 2000 - 13:05:09 PST
> A week ago, David Wetherell was receiving feedback [St. Sebastian-style]
> from furious investors that included -- booing, "Why are you still in
> charge?" inquiries and oh-so-contructive criticism: "You may be a
> visionary, but you may not be so expert at running and operating companies"
As you all know, CMGi is one of my favorite companies, in part because
it's fascinating to watch it evolve over time and in part because it,
like myself, has spent many years trying to figure out what the heck its
core competency actually is. (And yes, there's a core competency in
there somewhere: a company doesn't get to over a billion dollars in
annual revenues without doing *something* right. The race is on to
figure out what that something is, and leverage it in droves, before the
CMGi cash vault runs out.)
Now, like me, CMGi has had a terrible time in 2000 because of poor
preparation in dealing with an enormous market downturn, which darn near
wrecked both of our companies. But neither CMGi nor I am dead yet, so
as we reach this year's close, the question remains of what lessons we
can take going forward. Here's a handful of stream of conscious thoughts.
1. AT ALL TIMES, BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN WHAT YOU DO BETTER THAN ANYONE
ELSE AND WHY THAT'S GOING TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. This year
KnowNow has talked with many institutions, angels, wealthy
individuals, and venture capitalists (CMGi among them) and they
all have demanded insanely great -- not just very good --
explanations. And with excellent reason. Because the public
markets relentlessly demand outstanding answers to a barrage of
scrutiny every moment of every day, and only the strong survive.
2. REDUCE EXTERNAL EXPECTATIONS. It is far better to exceed lower
expectations than to disappoint when missing higher expectations.
A company that's doing a poor job of external expectations
management right now is BEA Systems, which has people flocking to
its stock in droves under the expectation it will continue its
hypergrowth for the foreseeable future.
3. INCREASE INTERNAL GOALS. That said, everyone inside the
organization should be pushing to be far more productive meeting
deadlines on time and under budget, and internal incentives should
consistently reinforce this.
4. WHAT THE MARKET GIVES, THE MARKET CAN TAKE AWAY. A company whose
stock goes from 5 to 163 from October 1998 to January 2000 can go
from 163 to 5 from January 2000 to December 2000. We have proof.
What's the lowest a stock can go? Zero. Just because a stock is
down 75% doesn't prevent it from going down another 90% or more.
No company can ever get complacent about what it does or how it is
perceived both internally and externally, because the market is
relentless in its perpetual judgment, and momentum and leverage
work a company just as much on the downside as they work for a
company on the upside.
5. CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES WISELY. You cannot win a war waged on too
many fronts at once. It is far more important to live to fight
another day, than it is to be overly brave or bold, or to be seen
as too bright, or to be ostentatiously beautiful. The qualities
that make for a great warrior, in my mind, are: willingness to be
seen as ugly and not-too-clever, while at the same time
maintaining a demeanor that is steady, stealthy, and tenacious.
There's a natural selection that's happening in the public and private
markets right now. The weak will die, the strong will get stronger, and
the rules will regularly change. Now is the time that companies
discover their mettle in learning to deal with adaptation to new
environments. Bring it on.
But is this what geeks really want? Mike Mesnick, the brains behind TechDirt.Com, doesn't think so. He launched a geek-driven parody of McClelland's site called Geek Girl Services, which promises to help women become geekier by taking them shopping at computer superstore Fry's and teaching them how to install the Linux operating system. "I thought [McClelland's site] was lame, and it's scary that people are going to pay this woman $1,000," Mesnick said.
Interestingly, Mesnick has become a kind of cause celebre among women. The vast majority of the e-mail he has received in response to his parody site "is actually from females, most of whom were offended by the original site and felt the need to apologize to me for it or to apologize generally for all the women who are trying to change guys."
-- Annalee Newitz, http://www.sfbg.com/SFLife/tech/39.html
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