Silicon Valley Remembers: A Decade After the Bust

The dotcom boom went bust 10 years ago

By Scott Budman
|  Tuesday, Mar 9, 2010  |  Updated 11:33 AM PDT
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Silicon Valley Remembers: A Decade After the Bust

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

10 years after the Nasdaq peak

"Damn March 10th."

I'll never forget those words, said to me by Excite cofounder Joe Kraus, as we were talking about the day the Nasdaq peaked at 5,048.  It was the end of the dotcom gold rush, the end of the greatest creation of wealth in human history. And the end of an era in business for Silicon Valley.

There's a whole generation that doesn't remember what things were like during the huge Internet stock run-up a decade ago. But if you're an Internet oldtimer like me, you may wince as you remember the smug, goateed twentysomethings; the giant ice-sculpture-enhanced parties with cheese sommeliers; the ridiculous stock-market valuations.

That was the time when Cisco Systems was, albeit briefly, the most valuable company in the world.  Shortly afterwards, they laid off 8,000 people in one fell swoop. And Cisco was one of the survivors.

Many, many others, Kraus's Excite among them, didn't survive the bludgeoning. Philip Kaplan's "F'd Companies," a book version of his dotcom rumormongering site, caustically chronicled the failures.

March 10 may have been the peak, but the slide didn't actually come as quickly as you may remember.  There was a swift drop in March of 2000, but then the Nasdaq recovered. The big dump didn't really kick in until after the 2000 Presidential election, when a nation waited to find out who its leader would be. Then came September 11 hit, and the market learned real fear and uncertainty.

From there, the layoffs and losses came furiously. As a reporter throughout that period, I remember planning stories every morning, but knowing that by the close of market, new Valley layoffs would be what I covered. Yahoo, Excite, Cisco, Sun, Intel, Applied Materials, Brocade, and the list seemed like it would never stop.  Big companies, small companies, it didn't matter.  When the dot in dotcom vanished into a tiny point and disappeared, we all felt it.

Among the survivors, of course, was Google.  By not going public during the so-called Gold Rush, Google actually dodged a bullet.  They waited until they were profitable and solid.  By the time they went public in late 2004, the market had recovered somewhat, and previously shell-shocked investors were ready to get back in, especially with a company that proved itself.

Most other companies have not been so lucky. Many good ideas failed to get funding because of the fallout, and many companies went under before they could become established.

Ten years later, we're just now starting to come around.  VC funding is strong again, and we're getting new products and technologies, both from large and small companies. Kaplan, who went from satirist to entrepreneur, got funding for his online-advertising company, AdBrite, and now has a new startup, Blippy. It lets users voluntarily chronicle their spending habits -- perhaps acting as a check on the return of dotcom spending habits, among other useful functions.

And many Googlers who have made money are splitting off into new startups, and funding new ideas. The formerly scorched earth of Silicon Valley is starting to bear fruit again.  We probably won't see a run-up like what we saw in 1999, and that's probably a good thing. The battered Nasdaq is still at less than half its value from the peak. But since 1995, it's tripled in value -- a respectable 7 percent growth rate over the long haul. Maybe slow and steady is the way to ultimately win the tech race.

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