Dotcom careers are still worth the risk

Mismanagement. Over-inflated stock valuations. Technology glitches. Just a few of the highly publicised problems to beset some of the Internet economy’s star performers. This has presented the first real recruitment challenge for dotcom organisations. First of all, how does the Internet economy go about recruiting talented individuals? Second, once they’re on board, how do we convince staff that a dotcom is a place where a career can be forged?


Attracting staff


Obviously the top priority is to have a fantastic business proposition. The problem is that there are still many dotcoms that believe their ideas will make money just because of the Internet revolution and not in spite of it. A bad idea is a bad idea in the on-line world or the off-line world.

The people who work at priceline recognise that the business model is a killer proposition that really works. And if people genuinely believe that the fundamental business proposition on which the organisation is based is sound, it’s easier to retain staff as well as attract new recruits. So first of all, a great idea helps.


WIFM (what’s in it for me?)


Professionals thinking of making the jump to a dotcom need to have a real enthusiasm for the area they’re considering and be commercially-minded first and foremost while having a passion for the fast-paced new media environment. The excitement of being involved with a project from its inception and the creative buzz this gives everyone involved has to be experienced to be appreciated.

The management structure means people joining the organisation are exposed to vast amounts of business know-how in a very short space of time. In a flat organisational structure, direct exposure to high-profile senior executives is a major benefit that many people at top blue-chip organisations will never experience.

What priceline.com also offers is the chance to be involved with a unique proposition which is fundamentally changing business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce. The “name your own price” model is one of the phenomena the Internet has been waiting for – we can make imperfect markets a little less so by aggregating excess supply and letting consumers decide what they pay. This has partly been responsible for the invigoration of B2C e-commerce in the US and we expect the same to happen in Europe.


What are we looking for?


Flexibility is key. Working at a start-up means most people get to do a little bit of everything, and this won’t suit everyone. We’re not necessarily looking for people with dotcom experience – you can’t expect everyone to have this because the Internet economy isn’t mature enough yet.

At board level, business track record is vital and priceline has hired people established in brand building and business management in the off-line world. Business acumen allied to a sophisticated grasp of the importance of PR, customer focus and marketing strategy is crucial. PR and marketing play far more important roles than ever in communicating a company’s vision either above or below the line. With research showing that off-line advertising is potentially more effective than its on-line equivalent, we need to hire people who can make judgement calls about where they think the best results can be achieved.


Customer feedback


Banks, supermarkets and petrol stations are vying with each other to keep customers happy, and being an employer is no different. With the Internet economy moving so fast, staff feedback should mean more than an annual trip to Laserquest, and with many start-ups virtually ignoring staff feedback, it’s hardly surprising the market is so fluid.

One of the first things priceline.com sought to implement as one of its business processes was continuous staff feedback whereby management develops a 360-degree view of the business. To think your company is impermeable is naïve, so, as an employer, the test is always to be able to say you are giving people a chance to grow in order to realise the full extent of their potential.

Feedback from staff is also a good barometer of how well a company’s growth is being managed. The first months, where exponential growth is a strong possibility, are crucial. At the very least, the technology underpinning the web site needs to be able to scale to cope with huge surges in demand, but a company should never just hire hands to paper over the cracks. As priceline rolls out across Europe, we appreciate it is also crucial that our team has specialist knowledge about the countries, the local markets and cultural differences.


Conclusion


The lesson learnt from high-profile dotcom failures is that business roll-out needs to be well planned and market-driven and growth projections need to be tailored according to the local conditions. Understanding these issues and being able to react and plan accordingly is going to mean having a world-class management team at your disposal. Not only does it raise chances of success, it also acts as a fantastic motivator to all staff.

As an HR professional, you need to be an integral member of the business development team, able to hold your place at the senior management table and bring forward propositions which add true business value.

Being at the epicentre of this economic, social and cultural phenomenon is as exciting an environment in which to work as one could wish for. But we should not forget the fears and concerns people have when they consider a career move. The challenge for dotcom recruitment is to provide the benefits and procedures that make staff feel they have career opportunities and also that we hire staff capable of promoting the organisation’s vision from within.


Priceline.com Europe is launching in the autumn and aims to recruit 100 staff by the first quarter of next year. Since it started in the US two years ago it has had more than 6 million customers

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