- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

Steve Chapin manages real estate and uses the free time he didn't have before to coach boys basketball. Bill O'Luanaigh works for a nonprofit.
People who were prominent members of the local technology work force have been in a rapidly changing orbit since the beginning of the year, and once high-profile techies who lost or left their jobs in a tumultuous economy are re-emerging in unlikely places.
Some still haven't re-emerged. William Schrader, the co-founder and former chief executive of PSINet Inc. who lost his job in April, is comfortable out of the spotlight.
Alex Mandl, replaced in April as chairman and chief executive of Vienna, Va.- telecommunications firm Teligent Inc., also has yet to resurface.
The stars of the tech universe have been realigned the past 12 months.
"Some of these people who were successful can lay low for a year or two and they can come back in a better market because leadership always is in demand. Some are re-examining themselves and figuring out where they can move," says Paul Villella, president and chief executive of Hirestrategy.com, a Reston placement firm.
Start-up phone companies hoping to compete with Baby Bells watched investors flee when they realized how much money it would take to battle the incumbent phone companies. Bankruptcies and mergers among them caused widespread layoffs.
Dot-coms filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidated, including PermitsNow.com in Gaithersburg, Omnivolve.com in Germantown, ZeroPlus.com in Germantown and ZillaCast.com in the District.
Other tech companies simply closed their doors, like ZebraPass Inc., a District company started by Jordan Klear and Marc Steren in 1999 with a plan to use radio-wave technology so consumers could buy tickets to sporting events over wireless phones.
ZebraPass received $4.5 million in venture capital from Nokia Venture Partners LP. Other investors included basketball pro Michael Jordan and filmmaker Steven Spielberg, whose sister worked at the company. ZebraPass grew to about 25 employees, but in September it began winding down operations because it couldn't get a second round of funding. Now it is selling its assets to Pennsylvania tech firm FreedomPay Inc., though the companies have not disclosed the terms of the sale.

Looking for work
ZebraPass' fate is not unique, but the disappearance of tech executives due to significant corporate reshuffling has cast aside people who were early members of the region's vaunted tech industry. Some of them were among the legions placed on a pedestal deserved or not to market the area and attract more companies, more workers and more investment that fed the industry's rapid growth.
Now, at year's end, some work at other tech companies.
Some left the industry.
Others retired.
Charlie Thomas has done none of those yet, but it is just a matter of time.
Mr. Thomas, the chairman and chief executive of Herndon telecommunications company Net2000 Communications Inc., announced Nov. 16 he would sell the assets of the company he helped start eight years ago to Cavalier Telephone Inc., in Richmond. The announcement coincided with Net2000's decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the company listed assets of $258.8 million and debts of $170.6 million.
Net2000 and other phone companies like it, called competitive local exchange carriers, simply could not continue to raise the cash necessary to build their own telecommunications network to compete with the Baby Bells, like Verizon Communications Corp.
The sale of Net2000's assets to Cavalier is expected to close soon. If Cavalier doesn't hire Mr. Thomas, he would be the newest of the area's prominent tech chief executives forced to move on before he planned to make a change.
"After [the deal closes] I will likely take some time off since I really haven't had much vacation in the last eight years. Beyond that I already have had five CEO offers for smaller, private companies and I really haven't started looking yet. I also have several ideas for a new company some in telecom and some outside of that," Mr. Thomas says.
Many others have landed elsewhere already.
Mr. O'Luanaigh joined a group of five former executives from America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. to start I-XOL Group in February 2000. But by the end of that year, the firm, which the men started to nurture tech start-ups developing wireless technology, had failed. So did Incieba, an incubator started by a team of investment bankers from Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown that Mr. O'Luanaigh went to work for after leaving I-XOL in August 2000.
"The incubator model didn't quite work out," he says.
His weren't the only ones to go bust. Christopher Stammer's Alexandria incubator, the Startup Generator, was put on hold. Vector Development, in Ballston, has disappeared.

Leaving tech
Mr. O'Luanaigh has resurfaced at the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation in Reston, where he began Jan. 8 as its executive producer of online content.
There is a hint of regret that he's out of the tech industry. He started at AOL in 1994 so early in the industry's life that he remembers the day AOL founder Steve Case used the company intercom to announce the young company signed up its one millionth Internet subscriber.
"Everyone concentrates on the greed, and I did see a lot of that. But one thing I also saw was a lot of optimism, the belief that everything was possible, and that was intoxicating," he says.
He wasn't the only techie who left the industry during the upheaval in 2001.
Mr. Chapin helped start LifeMinders Inc. in 1996. The company made a name for itself marketing to consumers using e-mail. But a difference of opinion caused a rift between Mr. Chapin and the company's board of directors, and on Jan. 29 he agreed to leave the company, sell back his shares in the company and surrender options to purchase more than 901,000 shares of LifeMinders stock.
LifeMinders sank deep in debt as advertising revenue became sparse. By June 30, LifeMinders had an accumulated deficit of $194.3 million, according to regulatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Revenue fell dramatically. LifeMinders reported revenue of just $1.8 million for the quarter ending June 30, down from $12.2 million a year earlier.
Two months ago Cross Media Marketing Corp. in New York bought LifeMinders for $24.06 million in cash and issued 4.54 million shares of Cross Media stock to the remaining LifeMinders shareholders.
Like Mr. O'Luanaigh, Mr. Chapin left the tech industry. He has shifted his interest from the Internet to housing. His new company, JARS LLC in Leesburg, Va., owns 500 apartment units in Florida.
And he is coaching the basketball teams of his 7-year-old and 10-year-old boys.
Mr. Chapin and Mr. O'Luanaigh are not alone in leaving the once-thriving tech industry.
Trey Richardson also left. He started E-Contributor.com Inc. in 1999 to help political action committees and other organizations raise money online. On Sept. 5, Votenet Solutions Inc., in the District, bought E-Contributor for $190,000 because the company was unable to make it alone.
His wasn't the only Internet company involved with politics that struggled. Voter.com Inc., a politics and election news Web site in Boston founded by former Clinton administration adviser Craig Smith, closed in March.
Now Mr. Richardson owns and operates Sagac Public Affairs, a five-person company that does consulting and public relations for political fund-raising firms.

Loving tech
He looks back with fondness and a knowledge that he helped start something new that, by virtue of the acquisition of E-Contributor's assets, appears will live on.
"This market did not exist before we created the product," Mr. Richardson says. "It was a tremendous experience, and it shows that good ideas work."
He estimates his company helped organizations raise $10 million in contributions during the 2000 election cycle.
But he doesn't regret having to move on.
"It made sense to merge [with Votenet]. Generally I think consolidation is good," Mr. Richardson says.
Unlike Mr. Richardson or Mr. Chapin or Mr. O'Luanaigh, Doug Layman decided to stay in the tech industry.
Mr. Layman started the year as the chief executive of online job-search firm Career Rewards Inc., a McLean company he started in 1999. He resigned in August, but has declined to discuss why he left. He also said it is too early to talk in detail about his new company, except to describe it broadly as a technology firm.
Mr. Layman's future was not long in doubt because he had a craving to try starting another company.
"I knew I was going to start another company," Mr. Layman says. "Being an entrepreneur is like being an alcoholic. There is no such thing as being an ex-entrepreneur."
Others who started tech companies in the booming 1990s, when venture capital was widely available to fund the growth of quickly expanding start-ups, decided to find work in less-volatile industries. Many, like Bill O'Luanaigh, moved to established companies firms that needed employees with technical skills.
"We've seen more people than I thought we would see embrace this move. They aren't at the helm of the company, but they are in a technology role," Mr. Villella says.
Wherever they resurface, former technology executives who watched bankruptcies, mergers or angry boards of directors change their fortunes remain unflappable misfortune can provide a valuable lesson, but it isn't the end of the professional road.
"Most likely, I won't know for sure what my next move is until the April 2002 timeframe," says Mr. Thomas, the Net2000 co-founder. "Rest assured, I will be back."
But with the region's technology stars changing orbit so dramatically, he could show up just about anywhere.

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