10 years ago today, I sat with my colleagues at Ask Jeeves as the stock markets opened and Lastminute.com’s IPO finally took place. We had been anticipating this moment for weeks and the truth was that if Lastminute.com could make a successful launch on to the stock market, the Dot Com world would be a virtual land of milk and honey. We all had shares options in Ask Jeeves the success of Lastminute.com’s float would determine the potential of our own stocks.
Brent and Martha - Our great hope
We had been in Emeryville, California for 3 months to learn the ropes and be immersed in the company culture, something we certainly got to grips with very quickly. Now back in London after our time away, we were sure we had the world at our feet and a potential fortune in our back pockets. This was looking like a golden time for us all.
Ask Jeeves UK Team
The atmosphere was electric as the opening bell rang but despite a strong opening day the price slipped south at an accelerated rate. Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman had ruined everything as far as we could see it – the chances of our options ever being worth anything seemed like a distant hope and with that, the Dot Com bubble had burst. The NASDAQ had peaked 4 days earlier on the 10th March 2000 – the date now widely accepted as the turning point towards rapid deflation.
In true Ask Jeeves style though, the money didn’t dry up immediately, there were regular parties and Friday afternoon beer bashes in the “Chill Out Room”. One of these Friday afternoons moved to an evening in the Firkin pub below our offices before closing time came around and the decision to return to the office was made to drink the left over beer. Cue a scene of carnage – drinking, dancing, fighting and a sprinkling of inappropriate kissing. Imagine then the horror of your American VP of Operations walking through the door just as two grappling lesbians smash a large glass lamp in a drunken play fight.
Not. A. Good. Look.
What happened next though shocked everyone when said VP of Operations grabbed the nearest beer and started pogo-ing around the room to “Who Let the Dogs Out“! Yes, tonight, he was one of the boys! As the party faded and everyone drifted off home, we were left with the realisation that Saturday would have to be spent cleaning the office, mopping the beer stains and sweeping up the glass. Still, as moments go, it was the stuff of legend. One of many during my employment there.
The parties continued but the fear in the digital sector in London was mounting with companies axing staff at a scary rate. Eventually, I arrived for work one morning to be called to an all hands meeting. Our global CEO was in town and looking a little shifty. This wouldn’t end well. He explained at length how the partnership with Carlton and Granada would need to change and that this would mean a variety of knock on effects throughout the company. As I looked around the room, I could see there were a lot of people missing. Whilst I had been invited to one meeting, about 30 people had been invited to another upstairs. With HR. The meetings continued and then like an incendiary, they finished and everyone was released. I sought out my team members, they told me they had been made redundant, along with nearly all of our Sales Team. Content and Sales – 2 rather key elements in our business model and now it was going to be a bigger struggle to make it work. As everyone scattered to quiet corners and local coffee shops to conduct their own post-mortems it was clear that no work was going to get done that day. The natural gravitation to the Firkin took place and as we sat drinking in the sun and considering our futures, it was clear this was the end of an era.
My day ended with a sweat drenched tube ride home on one of the hottest days of the year. Anyone who knows the Northern Line will understand how deeply unpleasant this is. My only cheer came from a my wife who had just had an equally odd tube ride home (a story that involved using bunch of flowers to cover her modesty). As a I ate my Solero and walked down the Balham High Road in the late afternoon sun, I knew it was the beginning of the end. Our time in London was drawing to a close.