December 7, 2000 12:15 PM PST

Dot-commers going from laid off to lounge lizard

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The latest high-tech schmooze fest to hit San Francisco and New York isn't about greenbacks, it's about pink slips.

People laid off from their dot-bombs are the guests of honor at "Pink Slip" parties, which are becoming the latest in networking and job-hunting.

At the kickoff San Francisco party Wednesday night, Christian Long figured he had a pretty good reason to show up at this one, instead of waiting another month for the next party.

"The chances are pretty good that I'll be laid off tomorrow," said Long, a chin-up tech manager dressed in a suit and tie, holding court at one end of the bar. Long said his company, San Francisco-based NorthPoint Communications, is under siege since many failed dot-coms have been unable to pay their debts to his company.

Long was among the roughly 80 people at San Francisco's Fuse with a story and slightly bitter philosophy. Attendees greeted recruiters, fellow Internet horror-story survivors, and an adoring press. TV camera lights blinked on, and tape recorders rolled as reporters from local media to CNN descended to get the scoop from people with strike-out status.

"Most people I know want to work for a more secure company," said hostess and SFGirl.com founder Patty Beron. She said she got the idea for the Pink Slip parties from an East Coast counterpart, where the parties started in July. Simple networking parties sponsored by dot-com companies have been around for years.

But the notion of celebrating getting laid off seems a natural outcome of the dot-com downturn that has slashed thousands of jobs from the Internet economy and shuttered scores of companies.

"These are all Internet people, and they don't want to leave the industry," Beron said, scanning the crowd from a seat in the back. Peeking out the bar's heavy, black velvet curtains at those waiting to get inside, Beron could see a line running down the block, three-people thick.

About half the attendees were job seekers, who were made to wear red dots like finalists at a country fair cook-off. The next biggest crowd was recruiters, wearing green dots, and a smattering of the just-curious types wearing yellow.

But unlike the bar's blue-haze decor, the 20-something crowd was decidedly upbeat, if not a little anxious.

"The balloon is popping a bit, but our generation and others after it are very talented people, and our skills are going to be utilized," said Chad Graham, who works in corporate sales at an Internet company that just got its third round of funding.

"This is just a distilling time. It's survival of the fittest," he said.

Amanda Swain, who was laid off from defunct e-commerce site Productopia in October, said while her last day at the company was "ugly," she is ready to move on to greener pastures. On the way out of the company, Swain said she did not get severance or the opportunity to continue her health care coverage.

Some vets from the dot-com battlefront spoke with a weary--and wary--intelligence.

"These venture capitalists should have taken it a bit slower when funding some of these bad business models," Long said.

The party, organized by SFGirl.com and SFBayHappyHour.com, will be back again next month--in a bigger venue to accommodate the many unemployed dot-commers.

By mid-November, about 8,000 people had been laid off from Internet companies, according to Webmergers.com, a marketplace for analysts that identifies merger and acquisition trends.

"We're going to make this a monthly event--unfortunately--until no one needs this anymore," said Marcus Ronaldi, founder of SFBayHappyHour.com.

And people bringing an actual pink slip to the next party get a free drink, said Beron, who is looking for sponsors for future events so people will not have to pay for all their drinks.

Either way, the bartender gets paid.

"No matter which way the economy goes, people want to drink," said Ray Morrone, owner of Fuse.

 

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