If I made it through 2000 dot com bubble, the name of my website would be My Two Millions At 28, www.2millionsat28.com. I was once a multi-millionaire on paper. The after-tax value of my stock options if I had the chance of exercising them was more than two million dollars. And guess what happened, two millions became zilch, nada, after stock market crashed. I didn’t see a dime or a penny out of it.
The stock market bubble was such an emotional experience for me and my colleagues at work. Although I knew that the dramatic rise of NASDAQ to above 5000 in such a short time in 2000 was not sustainable, there was not a day that went by without me wishing secretly that I could cash out my stock options. After all, it’s money. And it’s A LOT of money.
My anxiety actually began even before I started working for the dot com company. I hoped to begin my first day at my new company when the stock price of my new company was lower so that my option strike price (which would have been the market price) could be lower. I waited, and timed the market. I was almost making my new boss annoyed by not signing myself into the new company after I got the job offer. After the first sign of the market weakness, I made my inter-state move. Then I lived in my friend’s house, and kept waiting still for a good entry. With the high volatility of the stock market in 2000, the stock price of my new company was soon 20% under the all time high. I thought after all these patience, it was finally paying off somewhat. On the day that I joined my dot com company, I checked the stock price in the early morning at 7:30am PST. It dropped by another 5%. I told myself that this was good enough, and decided that I would start my new job that day.
But on my first day at the new company, I had the lesson of luck. Although the stock price dropped by 5% in the early morning, it rallied all the way to the close, and was eventually closed up by 16%. Since the option strike price only used the market closing price, on that single day my fortune changed by more than one million pre-tax dollars for the worse. I had my early wake up call the first day of my new job. With all of my foresight, planning, and execution, I just could not beat my luck. I never lost a million dollar (of potential option income) in a single day. I cannot describe how fatefully frustrated I felt that day.
Fortunately, my option strike price was set at a lower level because of the delays in my option granting process. While most of my colleagues were exhilarating because of the new found wealth, I was more sober. I wished very much that the party could last long enough until one year of option lockup period was up. But I had learned my lesson on the first day of my job. It was simply beyond my controls. It was my luck, whether it was good or bad.
On the day of my company stock hitting all time high, I went home and told my wife: “hey, we are multi-millionaires now. More than two millions to be exact. Do you want to go out for a celebration?” My wife was skeptical of what I said, especially when I proposed to go to McDonald’s for our celebration. In my mind, I was quite clear that this paper wealth was not real unless I grabbed it firmly in my hands.
Because of my correct but stupid foresight, I did not buy a single family home like some of my colleagues did. Instead, I bought a small condo on my super-low dot-com salary but with hefty dot-com stock options. Thinking back, being smart is not nearly useful as being lucky. Buying a big house would probably have returned much more, and tax-free too.
After all said and done, most people at this dot com company did not get the chance to exercise their options. Many of my colleagues were depressed and felt the total void of losing multi-millions. It was such a year 2000 of seemingly gaining and losing millions. It was MyTwoMillionsAt28 not meant to be. The gift of Millions was up to God I believe. But saving dimes and pennies is up to me.