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My Year as a Dot-Com Paper Millionaire


Riding the IPO wave could make a person seasick.

For those of us lucky enough to get the chance to ride the IPO wave, half the fun was in the fantasy. Timing was everything. Some got lucky and hit it big before the bubble burst. Others of us saw our paper fortunes ebb and flow, and are still working day jobs.

I've been in on two different IPOs -- one for iVillage (GE) and the other for Barnes& Since you're reading this story, you can guess which camp I fall into.

As an editorial director at Barnes& during its 1999 IPO, I can still remember the directors' meeting where then-COO Jeff Killeen pumped us full of anticipation for how we were embarking on an experience that would forever change our lives.

Killeen would be out of the company by the time the actual IPO took place. Former Time Inc. ad sales guy and AOL UK (AOL) executive Jonathan Bulkeley was brought in as CEO for the investor road show to promote the online subsidiary of the brick-and-mortar bookseller, which was then a joint-venture with German publisher Bertelsmann AG and way behind its technologically nimbler rival (AMZN). (Amazon sold only books and music back then.)

Despite its bookselling clout and well-known Barnes & Noble (BKS) brand name, as an online bookseller, Barnes& was a distant second to Amazon. Back in 1999, as this Tale of Two Booksellers from CIO magazine recalls, the site was slow to use, had fulfillment glitches, and made no connection between the clicks and the bricks.

One of Bulkeley's most enduring legacies would be to shorten the online bookseller's URL from to the more Internet-friendly

For weeks leading into the IPO, during the quiet period, the employees at headquarters, an office with breathtaking sunset views housed in the cavernous Port Authority building opposite Chelsea Market, were poised for prosperity.

After all, this was the height of the IPO season of 1999. One IT director I worked with had a Martha's Vineyard property all picked out. I fantasized about buying writer Anna Quindlen's impeccably restored four-story brownstone. It was on the market for $675,000, which seemed at the time an unattainable price to swing on salary alone, even mine in the low six figures.

I was out of the office on the day of the IPO event itself in May 1999, speaking along with many tech entrepreneurs in Carlsbad, California, at a conference about the small office/home office market organized by Working Solo author and consultant Terri Lonier.

My night-table reading was Spy magazine co-founder Kurt Andersen's Turn of the Century, a novelistic account of Manhattan and the "new economy" at the end of the millennium. I thought it was just the right choice for the moment.

Since we still didn't have smartphones or always-on computers, all day I darted in and out of conference rooms at the La Costa Spa to check just how rich I would be when the market closed. My shares had a strike price of $4.34 each, and visions of three-digit closing prices danced in my head. The whole conference was in on it.
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