Before Lou Dobbs flew off to Space.com, before Jim Fallows became a Microsoft serf, there was the Brian Hecht story.
Hecht was managing editor of the Harvard Crimson, was a reporter for the New Republic, worked for NBC in London and ABC in New York, and helped launch Swing magazine.
Then in 1996 he became chief executive of Washington-based Enews.com (recently renamed from the Electronic Newsstand), an online discount clearinghouse for magazine subscriptions. "I went before it was obvious what the payoff would be," says Hecht.
"It's intoxicating to actually be running the show," he says.
Hecht was a journalist-turned-
tech executive before that particular revolving door was cool. It used to be that when a journalist left to join a business he'd do in-house public relations. Now, his new job could be running the company.
Those making the leap aren't just the big names. Newsrooms all over the country are seeing the first wave of journalists walk out the door, dazzled by offers of stock options and the excitement of the Internet business. Some are making money. Others are working for companies that will soon fade away.
"There's a lot of envy out there," says Hecht.
We get why they're going. But we asked Hecht, 28, why the companies want these people.
"There's a good overlap of what it takes to be a journalist and what it takes to be an entrepreneur," he says. Hecht says nimble thinking, ability to meet deadlines and good communication skills are demanded for both.
He's seeing it happen more and more. "I wonder if there will be a brain drain for print and TV journalism," muses Hecht.
Hecht's company, which was founded in 1993 and now has 80 employees, has been on a roll lately in hiring super-experienced high-level executives from larger companies, and it has increased sales 10 times over last summer. He says he hopes the reporter-turned-techie trend continues even after some of the air is let out of the Internet tire.
But doesn't Hecht ever miss being a real reporter?
Don't get him wrong, he loves journalism. But when it comes right down to it, says Hecht, journalists have been doing what journalists do for decades. "The Internet is something that's never been done before," says Hecht.
In the ultra-competitive market of attracting and keeping good technology workers (journalists or not), managers of Best Software Inc. are bringing out tough ammunition: offering to paint the fingernails and wash the cars of their employees.
Last month, 40 senior managers at the Reston company were auctioned off for the day in Best's "Rent an Exec" program. Bids started as low as 25 cents ("If you really want to dis someone," according to Best's director of public relations, Brian Muys) and go as high as $50. All the proceeds go to charity.
"We raise some money, and it creates a lot of camaraderie," says Best chief executive Timothy Davenport.
Davenport has taken staffers to lunch, washed cars and, for a week, took Starbucks orders every morning and brought back coffee for his workers. Perhaps more substantively, the company, which has been around for 17 years and expects to have about $90 million in revenue in 1999, has recently spent about $11 million to add Internet-based software offerings to its business. It's kind of a start-up within an established company.
Davenport, a former vice president at Lotus Development Corp., plays up that investment while recruiting. "You don't have to go down the street to join an Internet start-up," he says. "And here you're guaranteed we'll make payroll."
Next month, Best plans to unveil Internet-based planning and budgeting software. Best has a few other employee perks, including a library of 300 videos that employees can take home for free. The movie list is posted on an internal Web site, and Best receptionist Carley Bell is in charge of dispensing the films.
"On Friday I feel like I work at Blockbuster," she says.
Check off a mark on the Barnesandnoble.com side of the company's cyberwar with arch-rival Amazon.com.
Bob Pittman, president of America Online Inc., said this week that he's joining the board of directors of New York-based Barnesandnoble.com.
Still, AOL has been playing both sides. Since 1997, the Dulles company has had a deal where Amazon pays AOL $19 million over three years to be the exclusive online bookseller on Web site AOL.com. The same year, AOL signed a deal with Barnesandnoble.com that makes AOL $40 million over four years to get the exclusive contract on the core AOL service.
For Pittman, a New Yorker at heart, it's another Gotham-centric role. His other board seats include Cendant Corp. of New York, the New York University School of Medicine and the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local technology people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TechThursday columnist Shannon Henry will host a live Web chat today at 1 p.m. with Mark Warner, managing director of Columbia Capital and former U.S. Senate candidate in Virginia, on the intersection of technology and politics in Washington. To participate, go to www.washingtonpost.com.