Razorfish swims against the stream
By Kim Girard
Staff Writer, CNET NEWS.COM
Jeff Dachis' digital media company in New York's Silicon Alley is full of fish.
Although the moniker is just a nickname for Razorfish's 1,300 employees, chief executive Dachis is somewhat of a shark, running a company that was
an early mover in a market now swimming with me-too IPOs. Since quitting a
job as a
waiter at a hip Tribeca diner, Dachis has built a firm worth more than $4 billion, boasting big-name clients such as Schwab, CBS, NBC and high-speed Net access firm Road Runner. And what's more, the firm is profitable, grabbing some $2.1 million during the first nine months of 1999.
Dachis is one of seven siblings, many of whom also are
entrepreneurs. Launching Razorfish in 1995 with childhood friend Craig
Kanarick was more about destiny and passion than
a calculated business plan. "It willed into existence by sheer force," he contended.
Like many sharks, Dachis has a sharp bite. His character alternates from braggart to cheerleader to savvy businessman. Although he quips that his company's success so far has only brought him paper wealth, he does point
out one big purchase he has made: a house for his mom in Arizona.
Jonathan Nelson, a Dachis acquaintance who heads interactive agency Organic
Online, describes him as a forceful, opinionated man whose company happens to be known for throwing great parties.
"He's really opinionated, super intense, a snappy dresser, fearless," Nelson said.
Despite Dachis' confidence, critics are questioning whether Razorfish can retain its culture amid rapid growth--since November alone, Razorfish has acquired TSDesign, I-Cube, Lee Hunt Associates and Sweden's Qb
International. The CEO maintains that all his acquisitions have been strategic, and that Razorfish will remain cohesive under one brand and one name.
Dachis recently spoke to CNET News.com about the future of the Internet, his company and his place in digital history.
CNET News.com: You run a so-called digital services company. There's been recent criticism that your niche is becoming more like the fast food industry--there's so much business to be had and everyone is taking on so much that what's being delivered has become a commodity. Can you comment?
I don't agree. You can go to "McWeb" or whatever, but that's not what we deliver. We're the haute cuisine in a premier custom solution shop every time. You can't box innovation. You can't put boundaries around inventing
and reinventing the world. It doesn't work like that--and if it does, you become a commodity. So all of those guys will become a commodity and we will continue to be the premier service provider that we are.
What do you think sets Razorfish apart from competitors? Most Net
services companies are often lumped together in the same group, yet firms still tend to maintain a different expertise.
There are absolute distinctions between our company and everyone else. One
is we're global. More than 40 percent of our revenue comes out of Europe and seven of our 11 offices are in Europe. There isn't another company in the States that has the European coverage that we do. It gives us an advantage when it comes to wireless and other activities that are going on in Europe.
The second is our service offering: a complete end-to-end solution. We have the most complex technology integration skills that exist in the services space. There isn't anybody who has stronger technology skills than we do or the depth and scale to deliver these technology solutions. On top of that we have the most creative individuals on the planet coupled with complex strategists, so you really have a skill set that's above and beyond the caliber of any of the other companies out there. And on top of that we're delivering those skill sets through platforms that aren't available from any other companies--like wireless. We have the largest wireless lab in the world. We're a founding member of the WAP (wireless application protocol) forum. We're partnered with Nokia and Ericsson building wireless applications. None of our competitors can say that. None of them. We also have broadband capabilities. We've done more broadband work than
any of our competitors or all of them combined.
Recently Whittman-Hart agreed to merge with USWeb/CKS, a deal that surprised the
industry and caused a lot of speculation. Do you think it was a smart move
by both companies?
No. For USWeb, that was a way for (USWeb president) Bob Shaw to punch his ticket out and cash in. USWeb has always been sort of a bad amalgamation of slapped-together companies with no brand and no culture and no specificity
in the way they do business--an aggregation of revenue financially architected to get the founders liquid on the stock.
It isn't something that is passionate. It isn't a group of people that's all about the creation of the digital future. They're not user-focused. It looks good on paper from the stock market's perspective, but it isn't about strategy.
NEXT: Being a big fish among many breeds