Ex-Dot-Com Workers Mingle for Fun and Job Prospects
Drink in hand, Jay Springer was schmoozing with Ken Basart inside Club SoHo, a downtown Los Angeles nightclub where hundreds of dot-com victims gathered to lick their wounds.
Springer had worked for Pop.com before the company closed at the end of September. Basart was laid off from PeopleSupport Inc., a customer service firm for e-commerce sites.
Welcome to the Layoff Lounge, the newest offline destination for L.A.’s online casualties. The lounge is just the latest sign that the dot-com business is turning into the dot-gone business.
That’s why Jeremy Gocke organized the gathering, a sort of cocktail party/networking hybrid, with a bit of kibitzing with recruiters, hiring managers and investment professionals thrown in. Gocke selected a glitzy bar instead of a staid meeting room for the event because he believes people want to socialize while they network.
“It definitely had to be something that drew a crowd,” he explained.
Last Thursday night’s Los Angeles gathering was the first of several planned across the United States.
More than 500 people sent RSVPs to the local event. About half that showed up.
Next month Gocke plans to hold a Layoff Lounge in Dallas and another in San Francisco. Atlanta is ripe for a gathering of high-tech casualties as well, Gocke said.
Los Angeles was considered a good starting point to begin the networking because during the past year has seen a slew of local Web sites close, leaving workers holding pink slips instead of stock options.
It has been adios to dot-com wonders like Icebox.com, Fandom.com, Z.com and Pop.com.
Santa Monica-based Stamps.com slashed 150 jobs earlier this month after cutting 240 positions in October. EParties.com is a shell of its former self. Business.com recently laid off 26 percent of its workforce, and eToys will be out of funds by the end of March, having slashed nearly 1,000 employees from its workforce in the past few months.
“The idea came about in December,” said Gocke, 28, a West Point graduate who last year started his own Los Angeles company, MobileContact Media, which develops integrated media packages for political campaigns and advocacy groups. He is also the founder of iBachelor.com, a Web site for single men.
“We had to let two or three people go (at MobileContact Media), which made up about 30 percent of our workforce. That brought it home. And I have several friends in the industry who got laid off. These are really solid people with advanced degrees. … It made perfect sense to launch something that adds value to the networking experience, which not everyone is good at. So we are bringing in some keynote speakers.”
One of those is Dave Levinsky, president of Growthink in Venice. His young company’s expertise is giving strategic advice on how to grow pre-IPO Internet and technology ventures.
“I would say about 40 percent of these people are interested in starting their own companies,” Levinsky said, noting that Internet businesses need to reinvent themselves. For example, there is a great need for more Internet sites that provide at-home entertainment that takes advantage of Hollywood’s product mix.
Mingling with investors
“It’s a great opportunity for recruiters to mingle with people looking for work and for angel investors and venture capitalists who are looking for potential entrepreneurs,” said Dan Guerrero, president of eCruiting Inc., one of the event’s sponsors.
The Layoff Lounge, free to people who signed up ahead of time or $10 at the door, worked this way:
From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. you checked in, got your drinks, and mingled with your fellow out-of-workers. From 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., it was time for a panel of recruiters and hiring managers from local firms and companies to dole out advice and check out the unemployed workforce.
Those interested in starting their own companies got a chance for a one-on-one with local venture capitalists and angel investors who provided feedback on ideas.
A large group of former Business.com workers, shown the door two weeks ago, came together in search of job leads.
Nicole Apel, 29, a former researcher at the business Web site in Santa Monica, said she’s already tired of sleeping in late and going to movies.
“I’ve been laid off before,” she said, noting that this was her first networking event. “This time I called and e-mailed all my friends to let them know I lost my job. I’ve gotten people calling back with leads.”
She said she and her former co-workers have kept in touch by e-mail and phone calls to support each other. If one person hears about a job lead they aren’t interested in, they share it with the others.
She liked the idea of the Layoff Lounge. “I’ve been joking with my friends that I was going to my new support group,” she said.
Brad Nargol used to work for Ibrella Inc., an Internet technology company that closed last year.
Nargol, 38, who was in charge of strategy and business development, has been out of work for seven months. He heard about the Layoff Lounge through a friend who was helping to organize the event.
“When I told my friends I was going to the Layoff Lounge, they laughed,” he said. But he thought it was a good idea.
Springer, 41, was at Pop.com until last September and then, after losing that job, he had a temporary position at Business.com as a researcher before losing that one, too. He said he came to find some good job leads and got one from a recruiter, but he didn’t want to reveal where it was until he had checked it out.
Mike Berman, a dot-com job seeker, carried a sense of humor to the event. His nametag displayed his name and the phrase, “Will interact for food.”