The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Thursday, March 22, 2001

Dot-Com Fish Stories

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: Fish stories — you know, about the one that got away. Some of us were trading dot-com fish stories the other day. One of the guys told us about a friend who'd gotten a job at AOL kinda early on, cashed out at a fairly young age, and was now spending his time traveling. "Yeah, that's what I thought I was gonna do," said another guy, sitting across the table from guy #1. Guy #2 had seen his stock options turn worthless when the dot-com he worked for gave up on a planned IPO. "That's what we all thought we were gonna do," said guy #3, who was sitting across from me. He'd seen stock options burst into flames too. We were in one of those fashionable restaurants in SOMA (that's San Francisco's South of Market Street area, once bohemian and arty, now new-media and a little less arty); like others, it had sprung up a few years back just as the dot-com bubble began its rapid inflation. How strange is this, I thought. Here were a couple of guys in their thirties, smart, talented guys with their best working years still ahead of them, bemoaning the fact that they hadn't struck it rich and taken a really early retirement. And yet for many of those who ventured into the land of the dot-com, sharing dot-com fish stories has become something we do — it seems perfectly normal. Like when I told a friend about a mutual acquaintance, also in his thirties, who'd recently been laid off from his dot-com management job, and my friend said, "He was making $150,000, right?" Or when another guy, who used to sleep on a couch in a warehouse office I sometimes used in 1995, came up to me at a jammed SonicNet party in New York in 1999 and told me that two of his ideas were each getting a couple of million in funding. Is that all? I thought, with no irony. What's truly funny about this is that in the beginning I don't think any of us gave up our old-school offline jobs because we thought the Web was a route to fortune. We embraced the Web because it freed our souls. And if you're laughing at that idea, it just proves you missed out. Whether you did the dot-com thing or not, you were never there. Now, eating our lunch, we were doing a bit of reminiscing. Guy #2 got a look of pure happiness on his face as he recalled daily brainstorming meetings during '98 and '99, where people earned the respect of their peers by coming up with the coolest ideas. One of the other guys nodded, instantly understanding. Some of us have experienced a truly rare thing. To wake up in the morning and feel like you just can't wait to get into the office, 'cause you know that whatever happens, it's going to be exciting; even more, that sometimes you're going to be challenged to solve problems no one has ever solved before. These days, "dot-com" is a swear word. You tell someone you're working on a new site and they try not to yawn. I take that as a good sign. It means that the people who were on the Web for the wrong reasons have moved on. Some of us, though, still like feeling free. Even if we occasionally tell each other fish stories.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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