The last time the NASDAQ index hit 5,000 I was celebrating my one-month anniversary of leading operations at Opus 360, an internet startup with a compelling vision for the future, a great brand, and plans for an initial public offering (IPO) in the near future. Optimism was everywhere until the index began a slide that it would not fully recover from until earlier this month, one week shy of 15 years later.
There have been many articles written about the lessons learned when the bubble burst, but from my perspective—sitting in the middle of it—I can tell you the biggest lesson I learned was the critical role of employee support in a crisis and the value of recruiting wisdom. As a recent New York Times article points out, certain mental faculties increase with age. Tapping into this wisdom by recruiting experienced Chiefs can make all the difference when markets are under duress.
Ari Horowitz and Carlos Cashman founded Opus 360 to provide innovative workforce solutions. Both entrepreneurs were visionaries who agreed with a view offered in Daniel Pink’s book Free Agent Nation: full-time employment will decline rapidly as companies increase their temporary workforce. These project-based workers act as free agents, capable of filling the needs of an organization by arriving just in time to begin a project and leaving the company’s rolls when the project was completed. Opus 360 had registered the domain FreeAgent.com.
This new view of the world created several business opportunities. First, an exchange, or marketplace, needed to be created to bring together buyers with specific projects (companies) and individual sellers with specific skills (free agents). Opus had initiated a major software development effort with the assumption that descriptive skills standards could be established among many constituents.
Second, the opportunity was created to attract free agents and to market products and services directly to them, supporting their independent lifestyle. Opus had already begun an aggressive advertising campaign to publicize this opportunity to a dispersed, independent community across the country.
Third, increased reliance on traditional staffing companies and temporary agencies created an opportunity for automated solutions to handle the increased workload and improve the quality of the matches. This would require another major software development effort.
When I arrived at Opus in February, the startup company was severely stretched as it tried to address all three markets. To their credit, Ari and Carlos had attracted a very talented but inexperienced team of Chiefs who were committed to changing the way the world works but who were also lacking discipline and focus. While prioritizing projects was essential to gaining control of the situation, another important part of our strategy was a recruiting plan to bring in experienced Chiefs who could help our existing Chiefs grow. We were in need of some real wisdom.
When the bubble burst and the NASDAQ crash began in March, it was clear we needed to accelerate our plans to support our team.
The plan worked. We were successful in recruiting a number of amazing Chiefs including:
- Mary Anne Walk from AT&T to support our Chiefs in Human Resources
- Pete Schwartz from Computer Associates to support our Chiefs in Finance
- Jeanne Murphy from Cendant to support our Chiefs in Law
- Tom Plunkett from ADP to support our Chiefs in Information Technology
- Ram Chillarege from IBM to support or Chiefs in Development
These experienced Chiefs each brought wisdom in addition to critical skills, including the ability to coach and the willingness to learn. Our reliance on a cascade of Chiefs at Opus enabled us to convince our board to go ahead with an initial public offering.
Importantly, the team at Opus achieved the quarterly revenue and cost projections that Ari and I made during our IPO roadshow for the first year in spite of an economic climate in which a majority of our competitors went out of business. We continued to develop products and attracted a merger with Artemis a year later.
The blend of wisdom from our recruited team along with the innovative energy that already existed in this burgeoning young company created a diversity that drove our resilience in a volatile market.