"Let's be quite honest," says Neil J. Closner, president and CEO of BabyUniverse.com, a 12-person Fort Lauderdale, Florida, e-tailer of infant products. "Anybody who got involved in this business had their eye on an exit strategy, either to be acquired or go public. That was in our game plan as well." Now that a public offering is unlikely and many potential acquirers are struggling to finance their own operations, the game plan is to stay on and run the company for several more years. How does Closner, 27, feel about that? "Honestly, I don't know," he says. "My mood changes day to day."
Others are more philosophical. "I didn't anticipate it to be a get-rich-quick scheme," says Betsy Burlingame, founder and president of Expatexchange.com, a New York City-based Web service for expatriates. "It's a very long-term focus. You build relationships and a community and then later bring in e-commerce and make money."
Burlingame, 29, met with venture capitalists before the April meltdown to discuss funding for her 2-year-old company. She was told she wasn't asking for enough money and didn't plan to spend it fast enough. "Now you have to have revenues that go to the bottom line," she says, "which we're working on."
That statement sums up the central experience of the post-crash Internet entrepreneur. It has two prongs: Spend less, make more. It's not easy, and it's not as much fun as the spin-and-spend techniques that transferred countless millions of dollars from the pockets of investors and entrepreneurs into the bank accounts of Web site designers, online advertisers and others in the dot-com boom. But it's necessary. And according to early indications, it seems to be working-as evidenced by the fact that not every dotcom is bankrupt, and some are actually healthy and growing.