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The opposite of a startup, a hi-tech company on the fast track to oblivion.

Before entering shutdown territory proper, a company goes through at least three significant rounds of layoffs. The first round cuts the organizational 'fat.' The second round consists of some 'very difficult decisions.' Finally, true desperation sets in. The third round ''cuts into bone'' say the executives sadly, as they deliver the mournful news.

The shutdown is the startup's mirror image in many ways. Frugality replaces the lavish spending of the early days, and all of the little employee perks and bonuses quietly fade away. Suddenly the president's approval is needed to order paper clips. In the halls, the motivational posters are quietly removed, and the tone of the Dilbert cartoons posted in the development cube farm grows grim. The boisterous parties to welcome new employees become grim after-hours affairs to honour the fallen, who like as not attend with their worldly possessions in a banker's box.

The headcount has returned to the same range as in the startup's heyday, but the makeup of the personnel is radically different. Gone are the T-shirt clad, sandalled genius children - fled to other companies, back to college, or simply stopped coming to work because it wasn't 'fun' any more. Gone are the visionary marketing managers with dreams of glory supported by a roaring green tidal wave of venture capital. In their place are bean counters, turnaround specialists, and the mercenary CEO axeman with his supporting cast of human resources personnel, sheafs of termination letters in hand.

Overnight the crowded conditions and battles for prestigious window seats seem the stuff of dreams. Now great blocks of cubicles are dark. Window seats are available to all, but the survivors huddle together as if for warmth. The silence is broken only by the clacking of keys and the desperate sotto voce calls to the headhunters. Occasionally a shuffling sound is heard as a lonely developer drifts through the empty halls like a tumbleweed with a coffee mug.

The shutdown dies slowly and with terrible dignity, like a woolly mammoth in the La Brea Tar Pits, never fully understanding what happened to it, or why. Finally it sinks out of sight. Only the wake of its passing rippling across fuckedcompany.com remains to commemorate it.