So much self-flagellation was going on at SuperComm this year, it wouldnt have surprised me a bit to learn that half the analysts and venture capitalists there had crawled to Atlanta on their knees seeking intercession and that the other half were wearing hair shirts.
The dot-bomb confessional was open for business.
"Blame me!" begged Yankee Group Chairman Howard Anderson. No! No! It was we, at WR Hambrecht & Co., who handed out debt wrapped in unreasonable expectations like it was candy, claimed analyst Tim Savageaux.
The victims were trying to put on a brave face. Level 3 Communications Chairman James Q. Crowe admitted he was "smarter and better looking a year ago," when shares in his company were courting $100 rather than flirting with $10. "Its hard to find anyone who thinks we can do anything right," he lamented. "But just as the unconditional support by the analyst community didnt mean every company was going to succeed, the unconditional withdrawal of support doesnt mean that every company doesnt have a future."
The seers say that the path to the future is fraught with peril. Some wonder whether service providers can continue rock-bottom selling long enough to wrest their networks from under debt. Others have shed workers. And then there were those searchers looking for value in the rebound, who pitched unproven solutions with the fervor of tent-revival preachers. "They should have called it VaporWare 2001," a financial type carped.
Have only those companies mortally wounded by the dot-bomb learned their market lessons? Apparently so. Companies emerging from the wreckage seem blind to the new axiom that an untried idea today, no matter what its potential, has about as much appeal to investors as the word dot-com.
But these are tough times, and the frantic behavior might be forgiven.
Perhaps Eric Wesley, who had set up a card table on the street and was handing his résumé out to conventioneers as they rushed from the Georgia World Congress Center to their downtown hotels, summed it up best: "Difficult times call for desperate measures."