It has been ten years.
My daughter was eleven and now she is twenty-one.
The year 2001 was a very difficult year. I had started my first company six years ago and had been struggling with unfinished product and lack of funding. Then in 2000, I was able to ride the telecom wave and finally raised $65 million of venture funding. My company grew from less than ten to nearly two hundred employees in twelve short months. Unfortunately the telecom bubble bursted prematurely and I had to scale back the company multiple times, dying by a thousand cuts.
I remembered September 10th, 2001 as if it was yesterday. I remembered it being a Monday. I was in the Bay Area with my VP of Engineering, getting ready to visit a major potential customer. We were having a late lunch at a little known Hunanese restaurant.
My phone rang and it was from my investor, George. The week before we had just finished our third layoff of the year, cutting down the company by yet another 50%. I was in no mood to talk to anyone, especially not my Board. But George was different. He had always been supportive and knew the hardship that I was going through.
We chatted a bit and I learned that he and his wife had flew back to New York to visit family. He asked how things were going and I told him that what we had decided to do had already been done. I didn't feel good about destroying people's life, especially not those whom I had hired personally, but it was not personal.
Then the call dropped and I was too happy to go back to my lunch. A minute later the phone rang again and it was George. I did something that I had never done before, especially not to a VC. Instead of picking the call I turned off my phone. George was a nice guy but I just didn't feel like talking anymore.
After the meeting, I went home to see my kids (they were living in San Francisco, and I was commuting to Los Angeles every week). Then I took a late flight home.
The next morning, I slept in a bit. When I woke up, I noticed that I had never turned my phone back on and when I turned it on, there was a message. I retrieved the message and it was my wife telling me, "... not to worry, everything is fine and the kids are home. There is no school today."
I didn't know what had happened. I didn't have a TV in my apartment. I just figured if my wife said everything was fine, then everything must had been fine. I got work to do and family was not my priority until the weekend.
I drove to work. When I walked in I noticed everyone was watching the big screen TV. I noticed that there was a plane crash in Manhattan. I didn't think too much of it since two weeks ago, there was in fact a small plane crashing into one of the high rises. Shit happened and I got my own problems.
Then another one crashed into the same set of buildings and I understood right away that the World was no longer the same. All I could think of was that I should have laid off two-third of the company the week before, not one half.
Such was the priority of a struggling entrepreneur.
The next day, I tried to call George thinking that he was still in New York. I finally found him on Thursday. He told me everything was fine with him and his family. He gave me some updates on what he saw in Manhattan. Then he said he actually tried to call me again on Monday after the call was dropped but there were no answer. I said we were in a bad coverage area so I didn't feel like picking up the call. And we were getting close to attending the customer meeting anyway.
Then I asked him why he called.
He said he was thinking about coming to the company to see how he could help with the bad morale after the layoff. He knew we always had company-wide meetings on Wednesday so he was thinking of taking an earlier flight so he could come back to the Bay Area on Tuesday and then took a Southwest flight to Burbank on Wednesday. But since I didn't answer his call, he didn't do anything.
So I asked what earlier flight would he have been on. He said United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, on September 11th, 2001.
There was a long silence on both ends.
Then he said, "Thank you for not taking my call."
After another long silence on both ends I said, "You are welcome."
Be grateful for what we have. Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.