Friday, October 20, 2000

The Cyber Scene in Los Angeles – by Krysten Johnson


 This October meeting of the LA chapter of the Asoociation for Internet Professionals was held at the spacious marchFIRST offices, located in the beautiful Water Gardens complex in Santa Monica. As usual, the food spread was delicious and plentiful, placed outside of the presentation room in the lovely adjoining courtyard.  AIP-LA is a new-media networking group with well over 100 attendees at every meeting. The organization's mission is to support, unify and represent the global community of Internet professionals and to help its members succeed in business. AIP-LA focuses on networking among active industry professionals and represents a broad industry coalition of professionals (technical, design and business).  In addition to the regular meeting sponsors, iGENERATION was there with a special offer to AIP members: eligible members can qualify for full scholarships to become iGeneration Certified Professionals and enter their job placement database. For anyone who has Internet career aspirations, iGeneration strives to show candidates how to achieving their 'net career goals, and also, iGeneration wants to be the place to find skilled internet talent for interested companies.  The meeting began promptly at 7pm. The topic for this month's gathering was mergers and acquisitions (M&As). Only one out of four M&As is currently surviving beyond the first two years, so the panel's goal was to discuss their successful experiences and answer audience questions on the subject. AIP-LA pulled together a panel of survivors and experts in M&As to discuss such issues as company culture clash, effective knowledge transfer, coordinating communications styles, and human resource issues.  The panel was moderated by Mark London Williams, Executive Editor of the Digital Coast Daily and the Silicon Alley Reporter. He did a fabulous job of leading the panel, which included: Chris Paine of Commerce One Global Services, formerly known as AppNet. Marshall Rockwell of Digital Island, formerly known as SoftAware. Nick Rothenberg of marchFIRST, formerly known as USWeb/CKS, among others! Dave Higley of Prudential Volpe, formerly known as Volpe Brown Whelan. M&A expert Larraine Segil, CEO of Larraine Segil Productions Inc and co-founder of The Lared Group.
After the introductions by each panel member, the discussion focused on their experiences and their advice on how to successfully handle a merger or acquisition. Some sound bits of advice that came out of the of the conversation included: 
• Companies that merge quickly (quickly is the only way internet sector M&As occur right now) can succeed if they keep the innovation and spirit alive from the original companies.  • Focus on where the e-business of your company exists and focus on profits. Merging or being acquired is how companies are now growing; focusing on your company business, and know that getting capital quickly through an IPO is not the only way to grow your organization.  • Run your company on its fundamental value, not its stock price. Always think ahead of the company, no matter how fast your market is moving -- focus on where you will be going next, and above all - be profitable!  • Enjoy what you are doing, and foster that belief among the merged company employees. Focusing on money degrades the community of workers, and your company can go farther if the human element (in this inhuman environment of high-tech) comes first.  • Being motivated by greed and attempting to simply IPO for the potential windfall is one of the best ways to set your company up for failure.  • Reduce the number of people at the top that work on the merger/acquisition process. "More cooks spoil the broth."  • Essential to success in M&As: a great legal team and experienced accountants. Spare no expense on a well-versed legal firm and you won't be caught unawares.  • Maintain company culture as much as you can, but realize you will have to trade aspects of the former culture for a set process. However, try to keep the fun and exciting atmosphere that your original team was hired into and expected to work in; keeping a good balance of new-corporate mentality with old-company excitement will lessen the culture shock and therefore holds down employee turnover.  The meeting ended with more questions and networking from the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting, and felt like I could easily have been up there on the panel answering questions on successful and failed mergers! As a veteran of "start-ups" before they were prevalent, I went through a recent acquisition-to-merger in my previous company. I enjoyed it and learned from the experience, then took up my dream to have my own firm and moved to LA to start my own company with three other partners. So, this discussion was very exciting in content for me, and noteworthy in presentation.