Embattled New York Governor Vows To Weather Political Storm
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, last night was Hollywoods biggest night, the Oscars. Well give you our take on the big moments, and well talk about coming out in Hollywood. Now you might think its no big deal, it turns out it is. Well hear from a public relations specialist who helps celebrities come out in Tinseltown. Thats just ahead.
But first, remember startups, venture capital, big fancy parties, the dot-com boom? It started in the early 90s in Silicon Valley and also came to Washington, D.C., but then it was over. This weeks Washington Post magazine takes a look back. Writer Christina Breda Antoniades told the story through a group of 10 people who saw the bubble inflate and then pop. Im joined now two of people featured in her piece.
Here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio is Raul Fernandez. He founded Proxicom, an eCommerce company which made him, for a time, a billionaire. Now, he is the co-owner of three of D.C.s professional sports teams, the Capitals, the Wizards and the Mystics. And Shannon Henry. She chronicled the dotcom years as a Washington Post columnist for a decade. She is the author of The Dinner Club, about the D.C. area tech boom. She is also the cofounder of the online food site, Cooking with Friends. And she is with us from Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. I welcome you both. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. RAUL FERNANDEZ (Founder, Proxicom): Thanks for having me.
Ms. SHANNON HENRY (Cofounder, Cooking with Friends): Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: Raul, Im going to start with you. In 1999, your company Proxicom went public. Its value quickly shoot through the roof. What did the company do? How did you get the idea for it?
Mr. FERNANDEZ: Sure. It started off making software that was better, faster. You know, the computer industry and the software industry was moving from mainframe computers to client server and the next step was the Internet. So, we were really at the beginning of this new way of computing, this way of distributing browsers and having those browsers that could be anywhere tapping into incredible information. So, most of our work was business to business.
MARTIN: Well, when you started the company did you ever envision that youd become a billionaire with a B?
Mr. FERNANDEZ: No. The plan was to make some money, grow, have some fun, work hard, be independent, you know, everything that any entrepreneur wants in terms of spending a lot of time, energy and passion and growing a company. But, we walked into a phase where there was brand new, you know, truly transformational technology. I think regardless of the boom and bust, that was a turning point in the way everyone communicated, collaborated and did everything. And were seeing it today.
MARTIN: Shannon Henry, you began writing a column for The Washington Post called the Download and you covered people like Raul Fernandez. What was it like as a journalist? Did you have a sense at the time that something huge was happening?
Ms. HENRY: I did. I felt like Washington, where I had grown up, was really changing. And you started hearing the story that youd never really heard before in Washington. And obviously it was happening in Silicon Valley and many other pockets around the country, in New York, Boston and Seattle, where people really wanted to change the world. And that was, you know, the good part of the boom was that its great to hear somebody talk about an innovation that will change the way we work or think or talk or do things.
It became a different world where people in the tech community made more money and sort of were more powerful than some of the politicians. And that was a way it changed Washington. The craziness really came, I think, a lot of people wanted to get into it like the real estate boom, where they saw a lot of other people making money and thought they should be making that money too.
MARTIN: Raul, what about that? I think a lot of what people remember of that period, they remember the pace of change, but a lot of what people outside of the business saw was just the conspicuous consumption. They saw, like, all of a sudden Ferraris on the streets of Washington. Not something that was typical. Big houses going up, crazy parties, that just sort of happened out of nowhere. Did you remember being a part of that? Was that something you think about now?
Mr. FERNANDEZ: Well, there was definitely a culture and it you could see it through recruiting, right. So, you were going after the best and brightest, and they were looking for the biggest, fastest, next big thing. You know, and the incentives became cars, right. Some companies locally were offering actually cars for some of their employees to come over, some key employees to come over. So it did get very crazy for a relatively short period of time.
I mean, when you think back, now weve lived through another bubble and another bust that was far more significant than what we had 10 years ago. And so, if you step back and you look at the context of the spike and what happened afterwards, the hangover, it was high and it was low but it was so much smaller than what we just lived through. What we just lived through almost collapsed the whole financial system, not just got some people rich on paper and then they came back down to earth.
MARTIN: Well, what was it like to be that rich on paper? Not to be putting your business out there but youre still very well off. Anybody who co-owns three sports teams is not hurting. But what was it like to see your net worth, at least on paper...
Mr. FERNANDEZ: Yeah, it was...
MARTIN: ...go into that many zeros?
Mr. FERNANDEZ: It was surreal and it was never, at least in my mind, taken seriously because it was just - having grown a business and knowing what it was like to create profits, reinvest the cash, you understood what it took to create real wealth. So, when of all a sudden youre in the stock market, your stock is up for no reason, you know, over five days, 30 percent, you just step back and say, look, this just cant be real. How long will it last? That was the question mark. But its a little bit like fantasy sports except that youre the player and the owner.
MARTIN: Shannon, what about that? Raul has just pointed out to us that, in fact, what the country is going through now is more significant economically, it certainly affects a lot more people. But do you think that the Internet sort of boom and bust affected our national psyche in some way?
Ms. HENRY: I do. I think that it did encourage people to become entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurship comes from, you know, sometimes needing something different. And in the times of recession you see people start companies because its a time of opportunity in a lot of ways. But these things came to an end. But it doesnt mean great companies, great technologies werent created.
MARTIN: Shannon Henry is a former Washington Post columnist. And she is the author of The Dinner Club, a book about the D.C. area tech boom. She is the cofounder of the food site, Cooking with Friends. Raul Fernandez is founder of Proxicom. He is a co-owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. They were both featured in a story about the tech boom in this weeks Washington Post magazine. If you want to read that piece in its entirety, and I hope you will, well have a link on our Web site. Just go to npr.org, click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE.
Raul and Shannon, thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Mr. FERNANDEZ: Thank you.
Ms. HENRY: Thanks, Michel.
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