They're the people everyone loves to hate. One minute they're just another struggling, unemployed bozo, the next they've got a wallet-full of venture capital and are sitting on £500m worth of freshly floated shares, courtesy of some flaky Web site they've tossed into cyberspace.
But whether or not the arrival of a new breed of Flash Harry dotcom millionaires is greatly exaggerated, the issue of what people are getting out of e-business is key for anyone - dotcom start-up or heavy-hitting clicks-and-mortar outfit trying to put e in the game.
According to a newly published survey by human resources consultancy Hay Consultants, what e-people are looking for is not just cash - or even cashable stock options. The short, sharp share-price sobering up that has taken place has rubbed the lustre off the idea that a dotcom pays peanuts but promises Porsches on flotation day.
Not that dotcoms ever did pay peanuts, according to Hay consultant Emmanuel Gobillot. "Everyone assumes that the base salary at dotcoms is smaller than in a traditional company, but in reality salaries for the top people could be 40% higher, and for everyone else around 15% higher," he points out. Plus there's the stock options of course.
Does this paint a grim picture for IT directors tasked with their corporate e-commerce venture, trying to stop their own staff leaching away to dotcom start-ups, or competing against them for e-skills in the open market?
Again, the picture is not as grim as everyone tends to think, assures Gobillot.
"We know that people are not finding it as hard to recruit e-skills as expected. Fewer than a quarter of organisations say they have a problem recruiting," he says.
Although the exception to that reassurance is at the deep-techie level, where Java scripters and HTML experts are still thin on the ground, "the technical shortage will become less so as more people come through in these skills", says Gobillot.
Even in areas such as Web design, which companies are increasingly recognising as crucial for a slick, non-amateurish Internet presence, there is not much problem.
It's not difficult to find designers," says Gobillot. "And we're finding that the people commanding the highest salaries in e-businesses are those with traditional skills from accounting to marketing."
But what Hay is finding is that e-employers, whether dotcoms or clicks-and-mortar, need to see beyond pound signs when it comes to e-skills, whether it's cash-in-hand salary or never-never share price. They need to recognise that people, especially e-people, work for more than bread alone.
E-employers "must design adaptable reward strategies", urges Gobillot. "The whole package needs to be reviewed," he says.
Terms such as quality of work, workload, lifestyle and social environment, how much autonomy staff have, the pace of work, whether they consider they are improving their career portfolios and hours of work - all these have to be in the package, says Gobillot.
In this respect, clicks-and-mortars actually have the edge over start-up dotcoms, which often have little more to attract staff than share options which may all come to nothing anyway, and are unlikely to have the time and resources to devote to staff development.
"The clicks-and-mortars are in a better position now than they were before because people are turning away from dotcom stock options," says Gobillot.
And a fully-resourced traditional company with an experienced human resources department - and deep pockets - can afford to be more innovative about the e-skills reward package.
Pound signs can still come into the innovation process of course. Even if a bricks-and-mortar e-business has no spin-out flotation in mind, incentives such as shadow share options, profit sharing and bonuses, which reward staff in respect of the e-business' performance and their valuable ideas, can play an important role in making your Web site the one they want to work on.
On the downside, clicks-and-mortars have to ensure they are not creating a brat-pack e-elite. Even if e-business becomes the norm, a short-term e-policy may be inevitable, says Gobillot.
To succeed in e-business, e-skills "are the only thing you need to get right", he warns. "If you get these wrong you will sink."
So what should IT directors do to keep and lure e-skills? Two things, says Gobillot.
"No one will be exempt from having to do e-business, so don't think it won't happen to you," warns Gobillot.
This was first published in June 2000