Rikke's Angels

They're young, beautiful corporate headhunters for the high-tech industry. How have they survived the crash of 2001? Simple: By partying like it's 1999.

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.

Now that the team was assembled, of course, it needed to find more candidates to fill job openings. And the place to get them during the dot-com boom was at the industry's countless venture capital-inflated bashes. Hundreds, if not thousands, of stories in major media outlets have chronicled the excess that defined the dot-com scene, which, for a while, featured a different elaborate launch party almost nightly.

Derinda Gaumond, a former Acteva. com employee who runs the popular Internet event calendar WorkIt.com today, says she didn't give a second thought to some of the features of her former employer's 1999 launch party: Held in a Treasure Island airplane hangar, it hosted thousands of people -- most of whom had no ties to the company -- who were bused to the bash by the company and, once there, got to enjoy an open bar, trapeze instructors, a climbing wall, and, most bizarrely, pig races with a play-by-play from Mayor Willie Brown.

"Those parties," she recalls today, without a hint of regret in her voice, "were just what you did."

The bashes were tailor-made for the TecHunters, who were trying to recruit exactly the population that showed up at the parties, which they didn't have to pay for or organize. What's more, because most tech workers were employed during the boom, they seldom sought out headhunters, but at parties they could be found all in one place. And, as the TecHunters quickly learned, most of those candidates were men, who were often there as much for the socializing as the networking.

"It definitely worked to our advantage, just hanging out, the three of us," De Lumen recalls. "It wasn't too hard to network with guys." Nevertheless, the girls didn't just stand around. Before a typical party, they would meet beforehand and strategize, decide who would work which part of the floor and, occasionally, if an event called for it, even show up in their "uniforms," which were black, logo-emblazoned jerseys.

Despite all the preparations, the TecHunters understood that to be the most effective, they had to feel like they were just out having fun. It's a precarious balance. "I'm half having fun," Christensen explains, shooing away a waitress who had been looking to give her a chardonnay refill. "But I'm also half not getting too drunk, so I can remember if I meet a good client. It's a little bit of work all the time. You're never off."

Of course, if one of the three happens to drink a little too much, and gets a little extra attention in the process, well, that's marketing. "Monica got so drunk at the Certicom party that she was just hugging random people," Christensen recalls, "but I don't think her hugging people is bad for business."

And, for a while, that business was prospering. By the height of the boom, the three-woman company (supplemented by a handful of commission-only freelancers in other cities) was pulling in between $600,000 and $800,000 a year. That's cash, not the Monopoly-money stock options so many of their clients settled for.

"It really was a perfect world last year," De Lumen sighs. "Now, well, it's definitely changing." It changed fast: Between January and April 2000, six Internet companies folded, according to data from Webmergers, a company that tracks dot-com transactions. In the four months that followed, 60 died. One hundred fifty-seven dot-coms died during the last third of 2000; 217 died between January and April of the new year; and 108 more shut down in May and June.

For a company like TecHunters, which thrived off the free spending in every sense, it was a terrifying time. Many of the people they'd placed were losing their jobs. Many of the companies they'd placed those candidates at were unable to pay commissions that were already owed. In a cruel twist, their largest debtor wound up being Livemind, De Lumen's first on-site client and Dougherty's former employer, which left an $85,000 bill unpaid when it folded.

But the TecHunters' problems were bigger than Livemind: Their business was placing people in tech jobs, but the entire tech industry was in a prolonged hiring freeze. The company went two months without a single placement. Finally, on a Tuesday morning in late April, De Lumen entered Christensen's Sausalito house (which doubles as the TecHunters office) and found her boss and Dougherty stressing over the books.

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