Chapter 29: Celebration Day

For Silicon Alley Companies, a Time To Rise and Shine! New York TImes article about iVillage IPO 1999

(This is chapter 29 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)

So then it was Friday morning, March 19, 1999. IPO day. We’d spent the last couple of days reading news blurbs about how nobody knew what to expect from iVillage’s stock debut, about how weird Candice Carpenter was, about lawsuits that could ruin the company, about the fact that iVillage had never made a profit. Other Silicon Alley dot-coms also got bad publicity before their IPOs, but there seemed to be a special pitch to the negative press we were getting.

I don’t know if this was because the boys club down on Wall Street didn’t like the rambunctious Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans muscling into the cigar room or not, but this seemed like a pretty good theory at the time.

Amidst all the bad publicity, our projected offering price rocked up and down before finally settling at $24, an unusually high price for any new stock. I would have been more nervous about my $30,000 opening-day investment if I hadn’t had a private conversation with Chief Financial Officer Craig Monaghan the night before. “It’ll be just fine,” he told me. “Everything’s going according to plan. Tomorrow will be an exciting day.”

Nobody told us exactly what time the stock would hit the streets, so we sat at our computers and worked and waited. 9:30. 10, 10:30, 11. “Anything?” “Nope.” The iVillage tech floor was, as always, a complete mess. Other Silicon Alley dot-coms had hip designer ofices with curvy vinyl furniture and glass pipes and electronic doors. Our Fifth Avenue townhouse headquarters looked like something out of “Grey Gardens”. The tech floor was a blacksmith’s shop: raggedy mismatched chairs, crooked file cabinets, messy paper manuals greasy with spilled food, circuit boards and Ethernet cables strewn on every available surface. The chaos of the room matched the chaos of the work we were doing every day to keep the site alive. Sometime just around noon, Ted Tickell yelled from a bench in the middle of the floor, “we’re up!”.

We were up. We opened at $95 and 3/4, a surprising multiple of our offering price. Within seconds, the number shot up to $97, $98, $100. Triumphant whoops echoed through the halls. We had opened at four times the pre-sale price.

This wasn’t just a good opening — it was a historic opening. Stocks didn’t usually multiply their values by four, and I immediately and happily realized that we’d just entered the annals of Silicon Alley history with a truly groundbreaking IPO. We’d also just proven a whole lot of nasty critics wrong, and since I deeply admired the highly quirky, non-conformist Candice Carpenter business ethic I was thrilled about the moral victory this successful stock debut seemed to represent. Of course, I’d been interested since 1993 in observing the Internet scene that was unfolding around me in a historic paradigmatic sweep, and I could only feel lucky to be an insider at 170 Fifth Avenue on the day this unusual company went public.

I also felt lucky in another way. Um, I was rich.

Suddenly, for the first and only time in my life, I was rolling in it. I was on the other side. My $30,000 investment had quadrupled in value, and since I had an automatic sell order with Hambrecht & Quist I would be getting back a check for $120,000. Beyond that, the 8,333 shares I would vest in over the next four years (through some complex pre-pricing mechanisms that nobody understood, my 25,000 shares of $8 stock had two weeks earlier been “exchanged” for 8,333 shares of $24 stock) were now worth over $800,000. Toss in the value of the co-op in Forest Hills and I was a paper millionaire.

(Of course, there were a few problems with this formulation. I’d have to survive four years in the zoo known as to collect my 8,333 shares. And the share price would have to stay over $100 until 2003.)

(Looking back, I don’t know which of these two conjectures are more laughable.)

We watched the stock price rise, in our messy office, with the Flatiron Building looming through the windows across the street, up to $110 and then $120, before it started swooping down again, down all the way to the $70’s, then climbing back up. “Just like our servers,” one of the guys joked.

I got happy phone calls from several loved ones who were watching the market news. All three of the people I’d borrowed money from called: first Meg’s brother Steve, then my stepfather Gene, then my Dad. I realized as I spoke to them that I’d have to pay all of them back — my $120,000 suddenly slipped to $90,000.

Friends from other companies called, just to shoot the shit, including several who’d been through their own IPOs at NetGravity or Yahoo or Amazon; we always watched each other’s IPOs, and talked about them the way we talked about our Sunday football pool bets. Today it was like I’d just won the Super Bowl pool.

The Friday night of the IPO was the night the parties began, and then they continued through the next week. I remember bleary nightclubs called Volcano and Beauty Bar and BMW Cafe. I remember a big company party where Candice Carpenter brought her two young daughters and pogo’d with them to the loud music on the dance floors. I remember getting pretty drunk and having a lot of great conversations about object-oriented programming and stock portfolios and the true meaning of online community.

I remember a late-night karaoke dive where an impossibly tall red-haired woman sang Pat Benatar’s “Shadows of the Night” as some kind of tribute to iVillage’s feminist culture, and even though I was a double outsider on account of being a guy and also having only worked for the company for two months, I totally related to the message.

And I remember the whole male-heavy tech team being forced to get out on the dance floor to celebrate with “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge on one of the parties that went on too late, where we all got too drunk, and I don’t even remember which night that was.

13 Responses

  1. Ah, the thrill of stock
    Ah, the thrill of stock prices shooting through the roof!

    For some reason that always reminds me of a quote – from a politician, I think:

    “I can smell the fish a fryin'”

    Now we have more often the terror of stock prices plummeting into the basement.

  2. Hmmm. I wonder how many of
    Hmmm. I wonder how many of your readers recognize the source of Bill Ectric’s comment “Once I built a railroad . . .”?

    Of course it’s the opening line of the depression-era song “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”

    And, I also hope you’ll recall that I sang the entire song to you about a year ago.


  3. Yes, Eli (Dad) — I sure did
    Yes, Eli (Dad) — I sure did recognize Yip Harburg’s song! A very apt choice of Bill Ectric’s, too. “Once I built a website …”

    Here’s the song on YouTube.

  4. I guess this is where we
    I guess this is where we readers finally get the brass tacks about where you were a paper millionaire for a day? Since I started reading here 5 years ago, I heard more than once that you were a paper millionaire for a nanosecond.

  5. In that case, Warren, yes,
    In that case, Warren, yes, the nanosecond has begun, and will go on for the next few weeks.

  6. Levi, that’s cool video of
    Levi, that’s cool video of “Brother Can You Spare A Dime.” I also like the rendition by Mr. Burns on one of the Simpsons episodes. I haven’t been able to find it on Youtube yet.

  7. Levi, this is a great
    Levi, this is a great addition to your memoir. The details are so good. Did you mention this already, but did you keep/do you keep a diary? Otherwise, I’m not sure how you could recapture all the details. (As I think I told you, I’ve now kept a daily diary for over 40 years and it tells me a lot of things I can’t remember, or corrects false memories.)

    I so look forward to your entries in this series even though I tend to check in late.

  8. Thanks a lot, Richard. I
    Thanks a lot, Richard. I really appreciate your positive comments.

    I don’t keep a diary, though I do tend to save “mementos” like the various papers and printouts I’ve been illustrating these pieces with. I refer to these to help fact-check my memories, but other than that, I just seem to remember stuff. It’s funny that I’ve gotten comments like this a lot, especially from co-workers mentioned in these chapters: “how do you remember all this?”. I have no idea — I just remember stuff.

  9. so, the nanosecond will last
    so, the nanosecond will last a few more weeks (is that real time or memoir installment time?)

    i love the description of the iVillage office. Utterly visual.

  10. Here’s some advice take out
    Here’s some advice take out an big loan on the stock options and move to montana soon. Yes I’m amazed(as i have alluded to before) at your recall and your eloquent recounting.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!