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To Old-Time Techies, Dot-Com Troubles Ignore the Lessons of History

"I couldn't imagine anything more interesting," says Cerf. "Taking the risky road is often the more satisfying thing. When you're young, you have time to recover."

And so does the market. Cerf believes the tech sector's recent troubles will ease in light of demand for new Internet-enabled devices--and some technology that is even more far out.

Cerf these days is focusing on interplanetary communication. In an effort with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he's developing a way for networks of robots, satellites and spacecraft to communicate with one another and with Earth.

"This is really fun stuff," Cerf exults. "It's like reading a science-fiction novel, except I don't know how the end turns out yet."


@Work asked Art Marks, president of the Mid Atlantic Venture Association and a partner at New Enterprise Associates, to offer a few tips for candidates battling the shifting job market. He said anyone thinking about taking a job at a start-up company should consider:

* Is there a viable business plan to reach the break-even point in cash flow--when the company generates cash rather than uses it? Do you believe in the business and the plan?

* Does the company have enough cash to complete the plan? If not, does it have the kind of investors who will provide the additional cash when needed? The quality of the investor can be a good indicator of the company's ability to access additional capital.

* Do the executives have experience running a company of the size and scope they envision? If they do, they are more likely to attract the capital they need and have the ability to deploy it effectively.

* Are the stock options valuable? They will not be liquid anytime soon, but they usually are vested over four years (25 percent per year). Here's a quick test of how to value them. When venture capitalists invest, they typically target a 10 times return. Look at what they paid in the last round. Since they expect to make 10 times their money, multiply their price by 10; mutiply that number by your number of shares. If everything works out, that's the value of your options today (less the exercised price). Of course, we have had companies that produced returns at 100 times and even 1,000 times our cost. It could happen again.

* Don't be afraid. Entrepreneurial companies are often a great experience.

Send tips, gripes, and your experiences in punching the virtual time clock to Carrie Johnson at johnsonca@ washpost.com.

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