The Evolution of a Dream
By Todd Harrison Oct 01, 2004 3:22 pm
Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurred to me
What a long, strange trip it's been.
After a wild summer in Sag Harbor with a slew of friends, I decided to spend Labor Day in Hawaii. It's not as glamorous as it sounds--my dad has a long history of mental illness and the "inverse parenthood" thing was in motion. No worries...and as I had to change planes in Los Angeles, I figured I would meet a "virtual friend" for the first time. I didn't know much about Casey other than she was in the entertainment industry and had a fantastic energy. She had emailed me while I was writing my old column and the exchanges became a daily part of my routine.
She picked me up at the airport and I immediately felt her vibe--it was an aura that, despite my unique vocabulary, I simply can't put into words. We talked as if we knew each other our whole lives, the kind of conversation that you never want to end (and it hasn't!). I'll never forget "the" moment. We were sitting in her Range Rover outside a movie studio when I pulled it together. "You know," I began, "Imagine if we brought our worlds together--entertainment and finance--and used them to educate people?"
We continued our day (Casey had actually cast me in Vanilla Sky and we spent the next 11 hours filming a "blink and ya missed it" segment) and then I made my way to Maui. Once I returned to New York, I pondered our discussion and envisioned what these little critters would look like. Hoofy is pensive, Boo is a wise ass, Daisy is a cross between Jessica Wabbit and Alice from the Honeymooners...my mind was racing as their faces morphed and the seed sowed. I was excited by the idea but really hadn't thought beyond that. I was running a big fund, writing for a financial website and--in whatever free time I had-- having a ball.
And then the world changed.
When the towers fell, I knew that it was the end of life as I knew it but I had no idea how profound the change would be. Everyone I know had a unique reaction to that day. Some married, others broke up. Folks fled the city, others dug in. Some turned to alcohol, others sought refuge in drugs. I did none of that. Instead, I buried myself in work, work and then, just to be safe, more work. When I say that 18-20 hour days were the norm, I'm not exaggerating. It was how I coped with the pain and, as I got through it, I have no regrets.
I left my old writing digs (long story) and focused all my spare time developing this concept. Casey and I spoke for hours on end, every day, weekends too, but there was always so much more to do. I don't think either of us knew what we were getting ourselves into--and we still might not--but it didn't matter. We brought in John Bell, an Academy Award winning artist, and voila!, we had critters. A brief moment of satisfaction...but then we had to build them a home.
To say that I underestimated the cost of building a platform would be putting it mildly. Not a shocker, I suppose, given that every element of the community needed to be up to my admittedly unattainable standards. There were drafts, re-drafts, re-do's, revisions, re-tries...if these critters were gonna be special, they should live in a special place. I certainly didn't have to twist Casey's arm...if there's one person in this world who thinks bigger than I do, it would be her.
The website was one thing--we were working on that--but I had no idea that I was about to become intimate with the intricacies of law. Judith Dornstein, Allan Millstein and Len Spivak--the 'Ville's watch dogs--spent countless hours making sure that everything was kosher. From trademarks to copyrights and financial content (SEC) to the children's foundation, we left no stone unturned and erred on the side of caution. I wanted to make certain that we were "air tight" and that type of granularity takes a lot of elbow grease.
Finally, after a full year of a collective effort, we were ready to unleash this puppy. We decided that we would launch as a free site and try to build an audience. While I had spent a sizable nut on getting us to that point, I felt it was important to "do the right thing" and offer a proactive gesture to our founding Minyans. It was the tone I wanted to set and it remains the vibe that resonates from our humble city of critters.
It was during this time that I arrived at a crossroads. I was still working around the clock and balancing life as the president of a $400 million hedge fund and proprietor of a fledgling critter community. When I decided that I wanted to step down from the former to pursue the latter, you could almost hear the laughter from those on the Street. "You're doing what?" asked one of my brokers. "Are you kidding?" said another. I was still gonna trade, I told them, but I'm gonna do it on my terms and try to find some balance.
And with that, I grabbed this young kid named Fokker and off we went.
After penning my vibes for a while, my good pal Tony Dwyer decided that he was Minyan material and climbed aboard. Soon thereafter, Brian Reynolds rode into town. John Succo decided to try his hand at writing (thankfully!) and Scott Reamer joined us as well. Before we knew it, Jason Goepfert jumped in and we had a stable of professors who were very good at what they did and even better at who they are. It was (and still is) very humbling.
To say that the first full year (2003) was a challenge would be an understatement equal to my initial cost analysis. Not only was I running my (smaller) fund, building Minyanville and writing the lion's share of the content, I also started the Ruby Peck Foundation (a full time job in and of itself). To add spice to the mix, I was bearish on the market and, true to form, the Minx decided to administer a full-fledged equity enema. While losing Ruby (April 2001) and 9/11 were gut checks of the highest order, I can honestly say that 2003 was the hardest year of my life.
Lou Manheim once said "Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss." Well, I looked into that abyss and I found my characters--Hoofy, Boo, Snapper, Sammy and Daisy. I also found out who my friends are--guys like Tony and Succo, Fish, Depew, Fleck, Susan and Brodksy. After a while, the bullets stopped stinging and my confidence began to uptick. And by the time I turned the corner into 2004, nothing was gonna stop me from exploring the powerful vision within.
A young man named Collins entered the picture early in the year and took the initiative. I didn't find out until after I hired him that he lived in Boston and took an Amtrak to all the interviews. I tried to talk him out of the job, assuring him that he was too qualified. "I'm the guy who's gonna go into the corner and dig out the puck," he said, "and I want to start tomorrow." Sure 'nuff, I finally replied, unaware that he had a suitcase of clothes and nothing more.
This has been a difficult year in the markets but a relatively smooth one in the 'Ville. We revamped the community, adding Buzz & Banter and a slew of other features. Our family has grown with the addition of Tuttle, Laurie, Roney, David, Neal, Weldon, Gula and now Bernie. We had a fantastic journey to Crested Butte and vibed with 80 Minyans from every corner of our country. And we're not done yet--on November 18th, we're going to have a press conference to announce the Critter's Choice Awards and the auctioning of the all-star guitar.
So, on this, the critter's "official" birthday, I would like to take a deep breath and offer my sincerest gratitude to everyone who has made Minyanville possible. Our community is only as strong as those who believe in it and our network is growing with each passing day. This has become more than a website and isn't just a business--it's a way of life and a belief system that we together share. I am forever grateful for your continued support and give you my word that if I have anything to say about it, we've only just begun.
Have a peaceful night.
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