In Silicon Valley, where hope springs eternal, it remains, well, springtime. Good luck trying to get an on-the-record sense of fear and loathing at Ground Zero, defined as the 55-odd miles of freeway between San Francisco and San Jose.
These folks won't throw in the towel even if investors do. Given that this is a region that always seems to bounce back, you can hardly blame them. Remember, after chips, there were PCs. After PCs, there was enterprise software, and after that, there was the Internet.
Still, one senses that the employees and entrepreneurs of Tech Land will be the last to know when their individual parties are over.
, the e-commerce-oriented consulting firm, whose stock price looks like a typo because investors have removed the "1" in 133 from just one month ago. Shares of San Francisco-based Scient closed Monday at 33 7/8. That drop has sliced $7 billion from Scient's market capitalization, leaving its value at about $2.4 billion, still giant for a consulting firm that pulled in calendar 1999 revenues of just under $100 million.
"The employees just want to know how the business is, and we've told them it's in great shape," says Christopher Lochhead, Scient's chief marketing officer. "We don't feel any different. We can only control our business."
Actually, controlling the business Scient receives from dot-com companies is one of its greatest challenges. The consulting firm's game is helping large and small companies gin up their Web operations, from establishing an e-commerce marketplace for customers to designing a corporate intranet for internal use. Fully 40% of Scient's December quarter revenues of $42.7 million came from its so-called
group, whose customers are a collection of venture-capital-backed start-ups.
Scient says that figure has steadily dropped as a percentage of overall revenues as the firm concentrates on blue-chip clients including
And Scient's growth remains torrid: Revenues grew 39% between the quarter ended September 1999 and the one ended December. Analysts expect it to swing from a loss of six cents per share for the year ended March 31 to 25 cents per share in fiscal 2001. (Scient reports earnings April 26.) That still leaves the stock trading at 135 times next year's earnings at a time when investors fear that a major segment of the company's customers -- dot-com start-ups -- will be increasingly pinched for cash.
"This is not something we lose sleep over." says Lochhead. "We still see the deal flow from that community to be very, very large," he says, adding that "it's way too early" to tell if dot-com spending will slow. But it's not too early to see if investors are re-evaluating the multiples they pay for even some of the best of the new crop of tech companies. Scient's shares traded above 35 in early trading Tuesday.
By tech-company standards, Scient is a seasoned firm, having gone public 11 months ago (at a split-adjusted 10).
, a brand-new Web company, also claims to be in good shape despite the market's several weeks of turmoil. John Doffing, vice-president of marketing for the San Francisco-based start-up, says scores of employees from troubled technology companies are inundating AtHoc with resumes. "We're getting resumes from people whose stock options are upside down," says Doffing, who says AtHoc has gone from 4 to 40 employees in several months and has 45 open positions. Normal daily resume flow has been in the 40-to-50 range, he says.
What's curious about the purported interest in AtHoc is that its strategy is so classically retro, a veritable 1999-ish dot-com-support business model. It makes a product that allows Web sites to customize features for its users. The tool is similar to a free product
. The giant Web portal uses its product as a customer-retention tool, and AtHoc plans to offer its product to everyone other than Yahoo!
Doffing says 120 customers (including, according to AtHoc's Web site,
) have signed up so far and that the company eventually will collect revenue from an upfront software license fee and sharing of e-commerce revenues. Predictably, none of AtHoc's "customers" currently are paying for the service. Doffing also said the company expects to announce a $10 million financing round within days. Why numerous thrill-seekers think AtHoc will be a better path to riches than their current gigs is more than a little bit of a stretch in rational thinking.
Meantime, if the surging market will prop open the shutting window for initial public offerings, at least one of the bankers involved in those deals is attempting to be realistic.
"If for the last year everyone wanted to race to the IPO, this market has taught us it can make a lot of sense to sit on the sidelines in turbulent times," says Ruth Porat, co-head of technology investment banking for
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
in New York. Morgan Stanley is lead underwriter on the postponed IPO for
and other deals awaiting a more confident time. "Our view is that there's still some downside risk in the market," says Porat, who, of course, is bullish on technology for the long term. "So if a company doesn't need the cash now, it might as well wait."
Tell that to folks in Silicon Valley.
Adam Lashinsky's column appears Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at