Prism

Prism

A Story by Philip Muls
"

An afternoon on the water

"

August 2000. With broad smiles on our faces, we raise our champagne flutes in a toast to life. We are a team of young expats on the deck of an Amsterdam canal cruise ship. The sun is brilliant and we are Masters of the Universe.


Brent, our CEO, says: “Cheers guys, here’s to our IPO!” while at that exact same moment, behind him up on the quayside, we see two bike-riders colliding into each other. We all laugh, leaving Brent confused in the center, wondering what’s so funny. Wenke, a stunning Dutch blonde who is our Head of HR, puts Brent out of his misery by whispering  into his ear what just happened.


This gang clustered together two years ago in the hotspot for Internet start-ups that is Amsterdam, psyched by the everything-is-possible feeling embodied by the city. We are in the right place at the right time, personally kick-starting the new economy on the old continent. Putting glass fiber in the ground at an accelerating pace to feed the insatiable appetite for high-speed bandwidth.


Feeling privileged and entitled, we’re in the sweet spot of the e-economy right where the smart money predicts maximum returns.


Only six months into our start-up, we got noticed by Venture Capitalists and before we knew it, we sold out to one of the pioneer dot-coms in the Valley. At the closing meeting in their San Francisco offices, I stood next to Dave, the buyer’s global VP of marketing, a six-foot-two giant who startled me with his resounding voice: “Did you know we’re paying only 2.2M$ for a full 30-second Super-Bowl commercial, a hell of a deal! We’re on right after Pets.com.”  To which I said: “Are we sure we’re reaching our target audience during a National Football League game?” He looked at me with surprise turning into disdain, his face showing his inner dialogue: “This guy doesn’t get it.” and left me at the coffee machine.


Back in Europe, each of us now is the proud owner of a ridiculous amount of stock options. Our new owner successfully floated on NASDAQ last month, moving our options deep-in-the-money. The calls do not vest until eighteen months from now but today we are all millionaires, on paper at least. We have the confidence of seasoned entrepreneurs. Surely, this cannot slip away, we have forward momentum.


The UNESCO world heritage setting of Amsterdam’s canals is a fitting backdrop to our “Yes, we made it !” celebration. The afternoon sun burns on the water which acts as a prism, breaking the sun’s spectrum into its constituent colors.


I look at my fellow entrepreneurs. The girls wear short flowery summer dresses, the men geek t-shirts with the unavoidable funny quotes. Quite the assorted group: Irish, Dutch, American, South-African, Canadian and two Belarussian network engineers who only speak Internet Protocol. Our PR lady Natasha has recently joined from Cape Town, our Ops Director Tony is from Nebraska, they are into a heated discussion on driving Lexus versus Porsche, spending money they do not have.


I smile and savor the moment. The future sure looks lavish with opportunity.


The prospect of getting filthy rich is wildly appealing and it comes with a feeling of complete freedom.  The unrestrained energy we demonstrate as a team comes from feeling unhindered by life’s usual limitations. All the ordinary in life is adjourned until we get to the end of this ride, for better or for worse. Each member of this gang knows that we’re making history here.


Stars and planets have aligned in a once-in-a-century fashion for something this extraordinary to happen. Our good fortune brings us as close to immortality as it gets, our horizon is eternity.


For the past two years, we’ve been in a state of flow, fully immersed in this challenge that takes all of our skills. We are at the top of our game. Our motivation is intrinsic, the hierarchy is symbolic. We inherently know what to do. 


Our company’s tagline is “Failsafe”, that is how confident we are. Each of us is a domain expert and as a team, we’re shooting  for zero errors.


No need for endless discussions, our game plan is crystal clear. We’ve even named our conference rooms after famous prisons to remind ourselves not to waste time in meetings : Sing Sing, Alcatraz, Robben Island.


I feel real proud thinking about how we got here, but at the same time, something is bothering me. Staring down at the waterline, the word prism lingers from my earlier thoughts about the sunlight breaking on the canal surface. I know one cannot see what is right in front through a prism because it bends the light. I mentally ‘see’ the metaphor and acknowledge that maybe I have not been looking at things clearly. Maybe my judgment has been clouded all along by the elated mood we’ve been in as a group and the exciting thoughts about unlimited wealth?


Deep down I know that this is too good to be true. Our new owner is years away from turning a profit, yet its valuation is sky high. Our stock price is blown out of proportion, based upon unrealistic expectations, emotions really. Anything ‘brick and mortar’ is considered as doomed these days and I for one have a hard time believing that.


All said and done, if I could run to the bank and cash in my options at fifty cents  on the Dollar, I would do so right now. But the vesting schedule holds me in a golden cage. So I have really no choice but to believe the bubble will not burst. I am resolved to see this through to the end. After all, the stock analysts are falling over themselves to convince the public that this is only the start of the boom cycle. I would be crazy not to catch this strong tailwind of the new economy and miss out on the gold rush.


Looking back at myself there on the canal ship in the late afternoon sun, I see myself physically brushing my worries away. I raise my glass for a refill, looking for some liquid relief. I drink and tell myself not to worry. But I also see that the earlier lightheartedness has gone, as if floating on the water, unknowingly, the ship has passed a tipping point…


With hindsight, that day on the water in Amsterdam was a defining moment. The dot-com collapse that soon followed turned our stock options into worthless paper. The new economy crashed and burned in a spectacular fashion and the NASDAQ ended the year fifty percent off its March 2000 high. The prospects of great wealth evaporated and we each went our way.


Looking back now, we were very lucky coming out with only bruised egos. But in the moment, it felt as if our universe imploded on us, we were reduced to again being mere mortals. Stars and planets drifted back into their normal orbits.


I did not get rich there and then but a couple of things I took with me, apart from the new term dot-gone.


That feeling of flow, when ego falls away. When actions and thoughts automatically follow previous ones, when one is completely absorbed by an activity without a sense of time. I have been able to capture and bottle that feeling of being in the zone and access it later at times when excellence was needed.


And of course that flavor of immortality, there on the water in Amsterdam. Young people celebrating existence, convinced they discovered the elixir of life.


I would not have missed it for all the money in the world.


© 2016 Philip Muls



Author's Note

Philip Muls
An updated version, thank you for all your feedback!

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register




Featured Review

This is so much better! I can see what is happening so much more now. It's no longer a monologue but events. Well done! To make it even better try to get rid of as many "We are" and "We were" replace them with more active words. For example the first paragraph"
runs "August 2000. With broad smiles on our faces we are raising our champagne flutes in a toast to life. We are a cheerful bunch of young expats on the deck of an Amsterdam canal cruise ship. The sun is brilliant and we are Masters of the Universe."
It could run: "This is so much better! I can see what is happening so much more now. It's no longer a monologue but events. Well done! To make it even better try to get rid of as many "We are" and "We were" replace them with more active verbs. For example the first paragraph"
runs "August 2000. With broad smiles on our faces we raise our champagne flutes in a toast to life, a cheerful bunch of young expats on the deck of an Amsterdam canal cruise ship. The sun shines brilliantly and we are Masters of the Universe." Does that makes sense? It makes the imagery even more vivid. Again, this is so much improved!

Posted 2 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you for the relevant feedback Viola !



Reviews

Read twice to become part of that world, that way of financial phraseology and near obsession. Am I allowed to say that this, to me, is part of modern life when making dollars or whatever is what makes a person feel alive - even breathing comes a poor second.

However, I read the rising euphoria, felt the catch and be trapped situation, wanted to cheer then whisper - STOP.. for somehow I felt that your finely tuned tale was going to.. fad.. into .. what must have felt like a disaster.

But, but, whilst that final phrase is understandable, can't help feeling that the person might have altered.. that immorality has perhaps been nudged. Perhaps?

Posted 7 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

7 Months Ago

Thank you for the reading and relevant feedback!
You used a nice choice of words. This story carried me through to the end. Thanks for the post.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I remember the dot.com boom and crash. It was when I became interested in shares and looked into the starting internet growth then decided to stay with safer options. I felt at the time of the crash the pain and anguish the investors must have felt, comforted with the reality of my safer choices. I still wish though I'd bought Google shares when they were just starting. A good story of how you felt overall.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I thoroughly enjoy this - Amsterdam is a beautiful place to visit and I too, loved traveling the canals there and the beauty of it all!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Good story. The immortality feeling of the young people in their 20's....I remember it as if it were a dream. Things do not look the same from 49 as they did at 20...

Thank you for sharing
Annie💕💃💃💃💕

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thanks Annie. I am indeed 49...and things look different, not better not worse. I miss that feeling .. read more
[send message][befriend] Subscribe
dan
Philip, Your writing is so authentic and relevant when needed. So I know this is a great piece. It's just that I am clueless when it comes to understanding finance. All the figures mentioned got me distracted. THEN the piece starts winding down and - - - "We were very lucky coming out with only bruised egos. But it felt as if our universe imploded on us, back to being mere mortals." From this point to the end is some of the finest writing I've seen on WC. It was sensitive, well thought out and allowed feelings to be considered. Just a very moving way to end the write. Bravo! take care...dan

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Hi. Initial impression is I'm liking you more and more as a writer, and I enjoyed this piece very much - especially the last line. Also, the truth and credibility of the piece shines through. I enjoyed reading it.

However, I can see some minor scope for improvements if you're interested; but I note you've already had loads of feedback. Do you regard this as 'as good as it's going to get - I'd rather put effort into editing something else'? (I'm like that sometimes on songs - you do a tweak to supposedly improve it but you can reach a point where somehow the changes also weaken it). So I'm happy to feed back suggestions if you're still considering reworking it.
Cheers
Nigel

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thanks Nigel. I am just back from some travels and now I will go through all the feedback and improv.. read more
You are a very good writer and captured my attention from the very start. Nice job!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

An interesting insight into a subject I have no knowledge of...
Well written!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Another amazing story! I really love your writing style and how your elation is tempered by caution before you too throw they to the wind and try to wind back down but finding that you never can. It's interesting to see your flow of changing emotions and words, but I could also see the underlying caution that even though an opportunity was possible it may not work out in the end and actually didn't. I wuite liked the comrades you built up on the can also only to later mention almost absently that you all simply went your seperate ways.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you Alexandra, your feedback means a lot.

First Page first
Previous Page prev
1
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

1278 Views
42 Reviews
Rating
Added on October 18, 2015
Last Updated on May 2, 2016
Tags: Dot-Com, bubble, crash, options, Internet, glass fiber, prism, Amsterdam

Author

Philip Muls
Philip Muls

Grimbergen, Belgium



About
Living in Europe, but travelling frequently in US and Asia. I love to combine what I experience during travel with observations and thoughts about the human condition. more..

Writing

Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..