I was fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s. As a product of Stanford and UCSF, and later an intern at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, I was a witness to the dot com revolution (and the subsequent dot com bubble) that swept the nation.
Revenge of the Nerds
On the Stanford campus, the Yahoo guys were hometown success stories, while the Google guys were just another pair of sweetly nerdy grad students in bike helmets working in labs around the corner from my chemistry classes. In those days, nerdy Stanford undergrads derided nerdier Stanford grad students, the latter easily identifiable by their clunky and unfashionable bike helmets. Only with time and wisdom would it finally occur to me that perhaps the grad students wore helmets because their intellectual capital had finally grown valuable enough to be worth protecting (as distinct from their undergraduate brethren).
I briefly met Rachel Maddow through an acquaintance at an al fresco spring dinner held at the “crunchy” dorm next door. Another friend in my dorm was dating one of the founders of Excite!, an up and coming search engine company reputed to be a darling of investors (if you’ve never heard of them, that’s kind of the point; they were going to be bigger than yahoo or google, until suddenly they weren’t).
Mo Money Mo Problems
In med school, a student in the class ahead of mine was advising us to load our (bleeding edge of technology!) palm pilots with a promising new prescribing application called epocrates, part of a company she’d helped to found. Another business-minded friend, a surgical intern, whistled over breakfast each morning as he read the stock pages before rounding. He’d invested all the money he had into a hot little start-up called Pets.com; he advised me to do the same if I wanted to get rich before my training was over.
It’s Not That Easy Making Green
Everywhere you turned, you found an abundance of talent and opportunity. Everyone but me, it seemed, was starting an internet company and growing rich beyond their wildest dreams, often with business plans built on the flimsiest of ideas. I was a sucker putting my scarce excess intern earnings into an S&P 500 index fund, which consistently lost value in my first decade as an investor.
We know how this movie ended. My index fund recovered. Excite! And pets.com did not.
Sir John Templteton put it best: The four most expensive words in the English language are, “this time it’s different.”