Originally published in the March 6, 2010 business section of The (UK) Times

“You’re not being ambitious enough.”

I was sitting across from a well-known VC, presenting a new dotcom startup in the content syndication arena with a plan to make US$100 million in yearly revenue by its fifth year. There was only one hitch: the date was Feburary 2000 and, as my VC puts it, “if it doesn’t say billions, we can’t take you public.”

The dotcom euphoria was in full swing and, for some of us, an uneasy feeling that we might have to pay the piper sooner or later was starting to take hold. But the markets kept proving us wrong. The NASDAQ kept hitting new highs, new record-breaking IPOs showed up everyday and everyone wanted to be in the internet industry.

With money being essentially free, Dotcoms were not offering a job but a lifestyle, looking to attract the best talent. We outfitted offices that were part office, part clubhouse, with the best of everything from furniture (the famed “aeron chair” was the default) to 24/7 food services and on-site chefs, to videogames station.

The new rules said work was fun and we were designing a new world to make that prophecy real, expanding to an ethos of work hard/play hard, with long hours in the office followed by over the top parties, thrown by every startup and including top music talent. It was all a little unreal, feeling like we were living through a movie.

At some of the parties, industry veterans (people with over 5 years of experience) were starting to whisper about over-heating. But that was far from the popular view and even the most conservative people doubted their own feelings about this, assuming that, since everything seemed to be moving along, their gut was wrong.

It turned out that our gut feel was right and the unreal state we were in would soon come to a crash. It would be the last time I wouldn’t trust my gut.

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