Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Modern Era "Depression" & The Rise of "Scamtrepreneurs"

Over cocktails recently with my friend from New York Planet at the 7th Anniversary Party for Bar 13, (which by the way has some very hot and friendly bartenders and is owned by the Philanthropic & Patriotic Founder of New York Strikes Back) we discussed the rise of the "Social Entrepreneurs", many of whom in the Post 9/11 NYC and the economic downturn now make their primary living off of social events. Evidently when times are good people drink...and when times are bad, people drink even more. Why not capitalize? People still need to let off some steam, have some drinks and network. Ironically, I even have friends who got rid of their health club membership but now spend the same amount or more on a weekly basis at local watering holes. Go figure

NYC is mired in the midst of a deep recession, bordering on a depression of mythical proportions which some forecast will only get worse before it gets better. See "New York & Wall Street: Binging & Starving Together." There is Trouble in Bush's America where some people are being driven to destitution. Nevertheless, the most under reported aspect in the media is the severity of the downturn and the victims it has and continues to take with it. This downturn has impacted those who were often sheltered in the past. The effects are beginning to Sink In Among New Yorkers. Even College Graduates lower their sights in a stagnant Job Market.

It is understandably hard to notice the real effect in the city that never sleeps. But if you scratch the surface, you can't help but see that there is a pervasive undercurrent of dispair and anxiety. Evidence of the malaise comes forth whether speaking to your friends and work colleaques or noticing that people are somehow disconnecting and holed out in their bunkers, perhaps waiting for the worst to pass. In fact, even those with a Golden Rolodex may find that is of nominal value if those in it are among the most severely impacted from the Post 90's Tech Boom & Bust.

You can discount much of the unemployment data regularly proffered. This calculation is based upon a faulty equation which is not at all an accurate reflection of the pain and suffering that many are undergoing these days. While the National unemployment rates are approximately 6%, they are actually closer to 10% in NYC under the calculus being used.

BUT, factor in the "underemployed", those who no longer qualify for unemployment compensation and entrepreneurs who are struggling but who do not figure into the "unemployment data" and things are truly far worse. An even greater reason why the method to calculate is not accurate is that "entrepreneurs" are not factored in. The greatest job growth over the course of the last decade has been the small business owner(s), most of whom do not qualify for unemployment compensation. Factor in the "Unemployed" with the "Underemployed" and the "people who do not count" anymore in the Unemployment equation and by my estimates, 1 (one) in 5(five) or 6(people) are in a vulnerable state in NYC.

Recommended reading these days for most includes The Layoff Survival Guide. Some of my friends have recently discussed how to "hook up on a budget." Dinner dates at The Palm followed by cocktails at Suede do not really seem to be in the cards for many. In fact, female friends have complained about the lack of courtship and the fact that some men no longer want to wine and dine but instead meet for drinks, coffee or hook up following a Party 4 Charity, an event thrown by David Shapiro and Alisha or a Cassworld Plus Happy Hour, or a LocknKey Encounter hosted by Michelle. But nevertheless many are finding out that money "Can't Buy Me Love."

As a Career Advisor to some of the best and brightest on the NYC Professional Scene, I have heard some frightening stories: the paralegal with a 4 year college degree and several years of experience working on Wall Street who was denied a job at Starbucks; the Investment Banker turned party promoter; PR Wiz turned Yoga instructor, the Venture Capitalist Bartender who struggles for gigs; the IT empresario turned struggling artist. Times are tough indeed. In fact, I even crossed paths with a Performing Artist known as Shije who wanted to hook up or get hooked up but confided in me her requirement to avoid getting romantically involved with any man working from home because she thought that home based entrepreneurs were basically "unemployed", even though she herself in fact works from home. While it seemed logical it also seemed to rule out a significant number of my most entrepreneurial friends in Manhattan who's businesses are akin to the garages in Silicon Valley where some fairly substantial businesses were launched. Not that any of my friends are Bill Gates. But by Shije's standards, had she met Bill Gates back then would she consider him a lame college dropout working out of a garage? Perhaps like some college grads she may want to lower her sights as well.

The need for socialization is, however,even greater now than it is in good times. Sure, one must focus on a life plan, client and business development, but those situations won't present themselves sitting in your apartment waiting for them to pop out of the Television set. In many respects getting out meeting people is not only good for networking, expanding your social circles, even meeting a mate but it is also a necessity to maintain your sanity in Post 9/11 New York City.

Jungle Jane at Swap Jungle among others like the Networking Girl have routinely over extolled the virtues of "Structured Networking Groups." My reticence to readily endorse or embrace any particular one is that to a large degree I have found that they are great entrepreneurial vehicles for the Founders but not always for those who join. They can certainly be effective for romance and dating but I have always wondered what the draw was to fill up the room with many people looking for the same thing...a job and charging them. Often the decision makers and those you most need to network with do not need to network with you via such a medium and frankly they are simply not there. I will,however, acknowledge that some structured networking groups have a place in your social hierarchy. Also in fairness, Swap Jungle has at least created a concept of value and a site worth checking out.

If anything is clear these days, however, is that there is significant competition from nearly every quarter for your "social dollars." A singles social event organizer recently was complaining about the difficulty in filling events with eligible singles. I explained that at the end of the day, isn't almost anything social, cultural or charitable essentially vehicle for dating or networking? In fact, one astute health club owner recently advised me that competition for his establishment was not so much other gyms but the ready accessibility of bicycle paths, running grounds and alternate fitness methods.

The social minded consumer is faced with so many options that they often do not know where to turn or perhaps who to trust. I often find myself advising people which social avenues to pursue and build their own network of friends and relations, hopefully built on more than present need. But the best advice is to network with people and in avenues that you are comfortable and represent similar values as your own. In that regard you may want to make the Manhattan Social Directory your first stop.

While there are some fabulous people who offer consumers value in the social/professional networking and dating arena, be forewarned that the down economy has also spurned a level of entrepreneurial creativity that is largely predicated on separating your wallet from your money. It has turned some of the best and brightest into social pariahs. If you are not aware already of the "Scamtrepreneur",you should be. This is the person who's business is dependent upon preying upon your need to network to meet people for business or social networking/climbing. Sometimes they are on the front lines but many times they are behind the scenes. In some cases their business model does not give the consumer the benefit of the bargain. In other cases, even worse, they copycat someone elses business, trampling over their copyright, trademark and license offering a lower quality product which seems to be precisely the same as the originator, undermining the concept of the initial creater but also often only further confusing the consumer. I am not a Socialist but rather very much a Capitalist. Nevertheless there are rules of engagement and theft of creative license is not something that I endorse, nor using your station and skill set to exploit those less fortunate. Even one who is quite savvy can be fooled initially by many of these scam artists.

The foregoing should not be taken to imply that all on the Social & Professional Networking Scene are pariahs, in fact some are doing all they can to foster a greater sense of community, connectivity and getting us back in the FLO such as my friends at New York Planet, Cassworld, Jesters Guild, Flo. Some enlightened goddesses, including Palagia from Onelegupnyc and Regena Thomasauer, a.k.a.Mamagena are also doing their best to keep us from losing our sensual perspective in otherwise challenging times. Included in the foregoing is also the big tent politics of inclusion being espoused by leaders of the NYYRC, sponsors of the Urban Republican Platform and The TR-Group.

In times like these all we can do is forge on and try to bond together.

Cheers, Chris London

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