Growingpains.com

FRAMINGHAM (02/07/2000) - The signs are unmistakable: The dot-coms are growing up. They're struggling into adolescence at the same warp speed that ushered them into the world just a few years ago. In short, they're becoming real companies with real problems. Problems like mergers and acquisitions.

Executive burnout and departure. Layoffs.

The poster child of Internet success, Amazon.com Inc., is cutting 150 jobs from its 7,500-person payroll. Yet with typical (and admirable) Web moxie, the profit-challenged online powerhouse was busy diving into the furniture business through an alliance with Living.com. The small furniture maker was only too happy to pay for the privilege of becoming a featured merchant on Amazon's home page, reaching out to those 16 million potential customers.

But while the dot-coms grow up, where does that leave the majority of doddering old earth-bound businesses? Taking advantage of experience and resources, that's where. Consider the examples set last week by retailer Target and Hewlett-Packard Co., each of which just spun off new Web units to manage e-commerce initiatives. Watch as that trend continues to accelerate and the pace of these traditional company spin-offs really picks up. IT organizations will find in these ventures a tremendous outlet for talent that might otherwise drift off to the dot-coms.

Ultimately, of course, making a profit will matter. The Washington Post, for example, runs a very snazzy Web site that lost $65 million last year. When asked last week by The Wall Street Journal (which is missing the profit mark on its own Web site) how long the losses would continue, the Post's chief financial officer said, rather morosely, "I think if we knew that, we'd all feel a lot better."

True enough. Yet the brick-and-mortar Post has the cachet of an established brand name and a history of respect for the work it produces. Longevity has its upsides. Let's face it, going through adolescence once is enough.

As a silly aside, isn't it time we came up with a snappier nickname for non-dot-com companies? Brick-and-mortar is popular, but sounds so clumpy.

Concrete-and-steel? Too cold. Real world? Sounds like MTV. Terra firmas? Too Jurassic Park. Any ideas out there?

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