The event was BeyondBricks.com, the British government’s DTI-sponsored initiative to energise the flagging internet industry, and two sages of the London scene were holding forth.
The "Beyond Bricks" phrase refers to the term "clicks and mortar", coined to describe the marriage of the internet with traditional business. It was allegedly minted by Microsoft researcher Kevin Scholfield or David Pottruck, co-chief executive at Charles Schwab in 1999, depending on whether you fall into the techie or business camp.
Beyond Bricks is less about "clicks and bricks" than it is about the now rather out-of-fashion process of setting up pure internet companies. At the event were some very persistent entrepreneurs, battling against a battle-scarred investment community and the withering scepticism of swathes of now-unemployed dotcommers who bought into the dream. Where it used to be a case of the bright young things accelerating past traditional businesses, it’s now more a case of the slow old men filling the sneakers and chinos they left behind.
Jason George, the 30-something creative director of Brighton-based interactive firm Victoria Real, could still be considered a young man. Likewise Simon Waldman, head of the Guardian Unlimited websites. But at Beyond Bricks, they were lecturing a predominantly middle-aged business audience on such things as the future of wireless and the prospects for e-commerce.
Of course, age has nothing to do with it – both men have been working in the online industry since the early 1990s and have a wealth of experience. And there’s nothing unusual about middle-aged businessmen per se. But I did wonder what greying businessmen were doing at an event aimed at internet firms in a marketplace which these days has more in common with the 1930s mid-western dustbowl than the San Franciscan goldrush.
When I was rattling around London at the beginning of the millennium, it was almost impossible to find anyone in any position of importance over the age of 35. At the extremes were people like 17-year-old Benjamin Cohen, whose Jewishnet was once valued at