Rikke Christensen's blue eyes give the cocktail party a once-over as she pours herself another glass of chardonnay.
The tall, blond, striking 31-year-old Dane fixes on a target: Three guys who are short-haired, clean-cut, and apparently in their late 20s. They're all wearing derivations of the Internet uniform -- a turquoise V-neck here, a bare chest showing through a splayed white work shirt there, dark slacks all around -- and displaying the facile confidence that comes with making a lot of money at a young age.
In other words, they're dot-commers.
And easy marks.
"Let's attack those boys," Christensen says, raising her chardonnay glass as a mock sword, and she and her tattooed sidekick, 30-year-old Monica Dougherty, herself an alluring blonde, charge though the cocktail crowd.
When they arrive, though, there's a physical barrier to easy pickings. The trio of young men is standing in a closed circle, a wall of backs. Rather than try to find a natural opening, Christensen simply bursts through, turning slightly sideways, raising her wineglass, and, after one penetrating-but-measured step forward, unleashing a glistening smile as she blurts out a single word:
For an instant, the three young men freeze -- they'd be deer in headlights, if deer could wear Banana Republic -- before taking what seems like a reflexive step back. Dougherty pounces into the opening. After a few moments of small talk and card-swapping, it's evident the three targets think they're doing the chasing, and think they're doing pretty well. In fact, the bare-chested one, arms akimbo, is beginning to recount vacation stories when, ever so subtly, Christensen's radar begins tuning in to nearby conversations. With a fluid, unobtrusive grace, she peels herself away, slides over to a fortysomething man with peppery graying hair, and breaks right into introductions. Dougherty is still swapping travel tales with the dot-com triad -- the bare-chested guy is midsentence, in fact -- when Christensen leans back into the group, uttering three letters to her sidekick:
"C ... F ... O."
"Awwww," Dougherty hams, flipping her blond-on-top, dyed-brown-below hair back and casting apologetic eyes onto the three vanquished targets, "but we were talking about skiing."
The use of past tense is appropriate. Quickly, politely, but absolutely, the dot-commers are dismissed, and the CFO is surrounded. He seems unlikely to withstand the attack.
Christensen is the president of TecHunters, a tiny local headhunting firm that deals solely in the technology sector. On its face, it is a company that probably shouldn't still exist. Not after the "tech wreck" folded hundreds of dot-coms in only a few months, plunging much of the industry into a prolonged hiring freeze and making it impossible for the rare company that was looking for employees to pay the hefty commissions it would have a few months earlier. Yes, common sense suggests that the TecHunters should have gone the way of Webvan.
But they didn't.
When it seemed like everyone around them was laying off or folding altogether, the TecHunters -- after making a few budget cuts -- went out and partied. The firm, a trio of beautiful San Francisco women, worked over networking events, company parties, and even random bars like government operatives on a mission to find more clients. And it worked.
Sitting in a corner booth at Liverpool Lil's, the dark, inconspicuous Marina pub that, if you believe the stories, used to be a favorite haunt of Joe DiMaggio, Christensen is swearing it was an accident, that she never intended to hire only women to recruit in a male-dominated industry married to social spending like none before it. She certainly never expected to have a staff she could contact through a Yahoo e-mail group dubbed "Angels."
"It's not by preference, really," she says. "But that's the way it happened. ... And it's funny: Because we're really fun, people have gotten to know us that way. At parties, it's like, "Bring on the TecHunter girls.'"
As the Denmark native tells it, it started with a few observations about the city she returned to in 1998 after stints as a recruiter in Australia and Tokyo: First, San Francisco's glut of tech workers were changing jobs at absurd rates, and second, when they jumped they got equally absurd raises. To Christensen, it was clear that a good headhunter could make a killing on commissions in that climate. And Michael Harris, who was running an Internet security company that Christensen was hiring for at the time, was sold enough to invest in the idea.
It paid off: Dot-coms needed so many people to accommodate their growth that a handful of companies wanted Christensen to work out of their offices to fill a steady stream of posts. She wasn't willing to give up all her other clients, so she hired help.
Karmina De Lumen, a Berkeley professor's daughter with a regular tennis game, became the second TecHunter. After languishing in the same software marketing job for two years, she sought Christensen's help in landing another marketing job. But as Christensen got to know the Spanish-Filipino De Lumen, and noted her marketing experience and love of chardonnay, she felt she'd found a kindred spirit.
It wasn't a tough sell.
"Originally, we talked about me coming on in a marketing role, but the revenue was really in recruiting," recalls De Lumen, now 28. "Everyone was changing jobs, there was a lot of money, all these titles nobody ever heard of before. It was very lucrative."
Once hired, De Lumen was placed on site at Livemind.com, a San Francisco-based e-commerce company in the midst of a hiring binge. Livemind's human resources manager was Dougherty, now 30, who eventually became the third TecHunter. A pickup-driving Montana native who her boss says "dresses dot-com" while sporting unusual tattoos and unorthodox dye jobs, she offered the perfect foil to the more traditional business backgrounds, personalities, and styles of Christensen, the "go-getter," and De Lumen, "the nice one," according to her boss.