The 1990's were the bubble years, the dot.com era, or whatever euphemism suits to describe the booming years of Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Internet businesses. They were years that created millionaires literally overnight. Businesses that began in basements and garages by college kids, suddenly appeared on the trading boards of the Stock Market Exchange. It seemed that anything to do with computers turned to gold. American life became high-tech. Suddenly everyone had cell phones, from professionals to soccer moms and teenagers. And personal computers became a fixture in American homes. The Information Superhighway was up and running and Americans were encouraged, not only by advertisers, but even by the government to travel it. It was "American" to log-on and surf the Web. The computer world was the darling of Wall Street and the express train to wealth and happiness for the American public. Moreover, it was an era of the young.
Sam Stone was no different than many other college graduates in the mid-1990's. He was desirable. He was tech-savvy and with no responsibilities, it was no problem to put in ninety plus hours a week at work. Unlike previous generations when corporations wanted experienced, well-seasoned executives, now the young were the desirable employees. The IT world was their world and anyone over thirty generally had no clue about the working of computer networking. So after graduating from Berkley with a business degree, Sam immediately went to work for a San Francisco IT company. He and his girlfriend, Lara, a pre-school teacher at a local private school, bought a nice apartment in an upscale area. After about three years, Sam was recruited by another California based IT firm and four years after graduation, Sam found himself earning $150,000 plus perks. Life was good.
Sam and Lara were living the life that had taken previous generations decades to reach. They bought a beautiful house in a suburban neighborhood. Sam drove a BMW, the status for the 'upwardly mobile' generation and Lara drove a Lincoln Navigator. Although they had somewhat over-extended themselves financially, they were doing okay. Bonuses and stock options padded their nest egg. The dot.com world was booming and the future looked rosy. The first year in their house, Lara became pregnant and after delivering twins, quit her job at the pre-school to be a stay-at-home mom.
Sam's firm employed over 2,000 workers and had offices in Europe and Asia. There were roughly two dozen people on Sam's staff alone. He had a lot of responsibility but was paid well. Moreover, the firm, like most IT companies, was hip and sophisticated. Life could not be sweeter.
By the end of 1999, Sam decided to leave his job to join a start-up company with a three other friends. He figured his stock options from the IT company he had been working for would hold disaster at bay. However, he didn't sell his shares, believing the price would easily climb past their $17 level. He was wrong. He watched the stock prices drop to less than $2 a share in a matter of months. Sam lost a lot of money. He also lost heart. To think of all the hours he had put in. How optimistic he had been. It seemed incredulous that all that stock was worthless. Although he was far from poverty, Sam could emphasize with the stock crash of the 20's when people literally lost their fortunes and livelihoods overnight.
Moreover, to add salt to the wound, Sam's new start-up company was finding it more difficult by the day to recruit investors as the economy took a turn and dot.com companies were dropping off the map as quickly as they had appeared. Thus, there was no capital for new ventures. The company was at a stand still. It was merely chugging along, however, it was still breathing. New projects were forced to be put on hold status, and spirits were at a low.
Sam and his partners, and a few tech friends meet at a local coffee shop a few times a week just to hash out the world, so to speak. They are still trying to come to grips with reality.
That the bubble has burst and thousands of companies and millions of dollars and potential dollars are gone, perhaps never to be seen again. Much like a real death, they are still grieving and trying to come to terms with it all. On one hand it seems incredulous and sparks almost melancholy, while on the other hand, most of them are relieved that the frenzy is over and the world has slowed down to an even pace.
However, Sam and most of his friends can not really complain. All of them are working and their lives are fairly secure. Although Sam's company is in a holding pattern at the moment, he and his partners, Larry and Phil, do not see completely folding and closing the doors any time soon. They are going to give themselves another six to nine months before they decide whether they would be better off getting out or toughing it out another full year. However, if one were to ask any of them whether they would try to start something today, the answer would most likely be no.
In fact, if Sam and his partners close the door they are all considering working for a company that is more traditional. In other words, they have seen too much and been through too much. The luster of the high tech world has waned and Sam feels that 'getting back to basics' is something that he needs to do.
While Americans watch the birth and death of dot.coms on television, Sam and his friends lived through it from beginning to the end. They watched friends like Marcy and Sally, who once had a thriving Web design business that at one point actually had to turn away business, yet, today are practically begging for work and it is very uncertain that they will last another six months.
Watching these companies struggling and often closing their doors has been unsettling. Akin to watching a disease spread from community to community. And in a way the crash of the dot.coms was like a communicable disease that spread from coast to coast, and only the strong survived.
For Sam this has all been a rather humbling experience. To meet his financial obligations, Sam took out a second mortgage, which actually wasn't too bad due to today's interest rates. However, it was still a blow to his ego. An even bigger blow was trading in his BMW for a more "sensible" car, a Honda Accord. Lara kept her Navigator, though. They paid most of it off when they refinanced the house, and besides, she needed it with the twins and all the stuff that travels with them and Sam wanted her to have safe transportation.
To help ease the financial situation, Lara has returned to the pre-school. And to solve the 'child care' problem while she's working, Sam and Lara have taken in an Japanese exchange student, Shiro. He has worked his class schedule around Lara work hours, so someone is always home with the children. And moreover, Shiro is working part-time for Sam's company as a more or less gofer at this point. If the company stay open, Sam plans to add more responsibility for him. It's just that there isn't much for Shiro to do at the moment. Sam and his partners are having a difficult time themselves staying busy. And if they decide to close the door later in the year, Sam can give Shiro enough references so that he can find other employment.
Sam has learned some hard lessons the past year. He knows that all that glitters is not gold and gold is not all that glitters. Sam is still young, not quite thirty and has years ahead to make his mark should his company fold. He's had several offers from area IT's and is confident that his future will be okay one way or another. However, it has taken its toll on his life, there is no doubt about it. Losing the stock options was a huge blow that sent him into a depression for several months until he and Lara figured out exactly how they would stretch out what nest egg they had left.
For the most part Sam feels wiser and seasoned. He has no plans to follow the same path that led him to this day, although he has no regrets. It was good while it lasted. And who knows what tomorrow brings, goodness knows no one did before. The dot.coms are steadily crawling back to the surface and many, maybe even Sam's will get a surge of energy and come back full force. However, only time will tell, and for now, Sam is content with his life and grateful that he can call himself a survivor.
As of 2002, twenty-two percent of the 1,942 companies first finance in…