One of the lessons I learned from this experience is that young startups fail to get their name out there adequately. They fail to get their name out there through press channels. They view public relations as a secondary or tertiary part of their business strategy, and they fail to gain visibility and build credibility in the marketplace. We continued to put more and more dollars into our public relations and we found over time that it worked. We would have people visit us and they always had the perception that we were much larger than we actually were. That was an incredibly valuable business building strategy and it also probably helped us with our acquisition valuation. USWeb was one of several that came knocking, but we liked the vision of USWeb and we liked the passion, enthusiasm and youth of USWeb, and we had marquee names as clients and profitability that would help them with their IPO. So we signed what was at that point an all-stock transaction.
I continued with the firm through all its iterations, eventually leading an office of over 250 people at its peak and overseeing the downsizing when the stock began to tank and the bubble burst.
It is impressive that you stuck with the company through all those changes.
Well, there is a bunch of stuff going on there. There is the seduction of an increasing stock price. But what kept me around was that all I really wanted was to run a good business, I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to have a place where I liked the people I worked with and I made a decent living. The fact is all those things continued to be the case and were a part of my experience almost until the very end and that is what kept me driven, despite an evaporating value on paper.
I had a lot of conflicting advice on how to handle my stock. So called experts were saying the market was going to continue to go up, while people around me were telling me to sell, but every quarter I would continue to see the stock price go up. At that time I was trying to get the maximum amount of stock vested at the highest value. Little did I know that after we (marchFIRST) missed our numbers without warning, the stock price dropped about 65% in 24 hours and went from just over $60 to $.13 in less than a year. One of my business partners lost everything because he had gone out on margin. He literally woke up one morning, because of the difference in time zone, with a phone call that told him they had liquidated everything in his portfolio, paper worth in the millions, and that he owed the brokerage $250,000. This person went in the span of a couple of days from having a paper net worth of several millions to owing $250,000. He had to sell his house, his car and move back into an apartment within the span of a month. When I started to see this happening I started to sell some of my stock and got out enough to pay off my student loans, buy my car, put down some money on a house and have just enough if I needed to start over. I certainly would have had several million dollars of net worth if I had been more aggressive with my selling strategy. I followed some advice that was the same kool-aid everyone else was drinking. There was mass hysteria that makes me feel a little better, but what I did fail to do was stay centered on my own set of values. That has continued to rule the day for the work I do today. You need to make sure you are calibrating what you are doing in the workplace with your core values. If you begin to step outside of your core values of work/life balance and how much money is enough, the kind of environment you want to create in the workplace\0x2026these kinds of things are easy to let slip\0x2026and I did.
What were some instances where you drifted away from your core values?
For sure, number one was money \0x2013 I didn't need a flashy house on the hill or go to the right restaurants, but somehow all of those things became a part of what it meant to be successful in the Internet. My business partner was adamant that I get rid of my 78' Honda Accord and get a BMW because how could I be selling Paramount Studios on a Mission Impossible website, showing up in a rusted Honda Accord? Unfortunately, you start to put more of your focus on how you're selling instead of what you're selling and your product or service eventually begins to suffer.
Greed is undoubtedly the second. I had the brass ring, in terms of what my stock was worth, but I wanted to hold on to get the platinum ring, so I let my brass ring slip away, and that would have provided me plenty of money to pursue my film-making passion.