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Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers
For readers with high sensitivity to grammar errors access to this page is not recommended :-)
|POLL: Do you think that the
embrace of open source by big companies has killed the movement's
49.1% No - the movement is still going strong, and is transforming corporate cultures from the inside
25.9% Yes - the revolution has turned into just another way to make money
17.2% A lot of it's about cash now, but you can still set up your own project that reflects your ideals
7.8% Hey, I've always been in it for the money
open.itworld.com, July 1, 2004
In June 2004 ItWorld.com conducted an informal poll. It consisted with just one question: "Has open source sold its soul?". Here is the text:
Do you think that the embrace of open source by big companies has killed
the movement's idealistic drive?
* No - the movement is still going strong, and is transforming corporate
cultures from the inside
* Yes - the revolution has turned into just another way to make money
* A lot of it's about cash now, but you can still set up your own
project that reflects your ideals
* Hey, I've always been in it for the money
Let us know!
Here are the results as of July 1, 2004:
POLL: Do you think that the embrace of open source by big companies has killed the movement's idealistic drive?
49.1% No - the movement is still going strong, and is transforming corporate cultures from the inside
25.9% Yes - the revolution has turned into just another way to make money
17.2% A lot of it's about cash now, but you can still set up your own project that reflects your ideals
7.8% Hey, I've always been in it for the money
While definitely unscientific, the results above suggest that more then a half correspondent think that open source (to be more exact commercialized GPL-based software including Linux, but excluding Apache and all BSD-based projects like FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, etc) became a puppet in big corporate games ("sold its soul"). This part of the chapter contains my investigation into the process.
|In the jungle, the mighty IT jungle, the Linux deer sleeps tonight - with the IBM elephant, the HP lion, the Sun tiger and now the Oracle gorilla. Poor deer, she couldn't say no; after all, she was born to be Open and Free.|
In the cover story "Net Money Game: How top financial firms reaped billions, while investors got burned" Business Week noted that for years, venture capitalists declared that their mission was to build sustainable businesses. But when Linux IPO mania hit, they began rushing companies onto the public market with just promising business plans, but not sustainable business model. They were jointed by shady investment firms like Goldman Sachs. As Matt Taibbi's noted in his brilliant article "The Great American Bubble Machine" the basic scam that investment firms perpetrated is pretty easy even for the financially illiterate to grasp. Companies that weren't much more than pot-fueled ideas scrawled on napkins by up-too-late bong-smokers were taken public via IPOs, relentlessly hyped in the media and sold to the public for billions. During the dotcom bubble, investment bankers and the like took public hundreds of companies which were valued on nothing more than hot air. Much of the hot air was supplied by the enablers of certain media outlets. For every dollar that was raised via an IPO, banks made around 50 cents in fees and about half of that lined the pockets of the bankers. Not a bad reward for the ludicrous valuations they put on basically worthless companies. This new generation of “robber bankers” knew this and yet had their “snake oil salesmen” promoting and selling this garbage all over the world. Torvalds was one of their most prominent "snake oil salesmen".
It was as if banks like Goldman were wrapping ribbons "I love Linux" around watermelons, attaching a balloon with smiling Finn and Tux, tossing them out 50-story windows, and opening the phones for bids. In this game you were a winner only if you took your money out before the watermelon hit the pavement. In a Bloomberg post Banks Win Final Approval to Settle Internet IPO Suit David Glovin wrote that everything ended well for this shady group of white-collar criminals. They paid approximately 2% of the damages:
Oct. 6 () -- Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse Group AG are among banks winning final approval of a $586 million settlement of a lawsuit over initial public offerings of technology stocks, a fraction of the sum investors once sought.
The banks will pay to settle claims stemming from the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000, which led to lawsuits against 309 technology companies and 55 underwriters, under a settlement approved today by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan. In June she granted preliminary approval to a settlement made public in April.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers led by Melvyn Weiss, who has since been jailed in an unrelated kickback scheme, once demanded $12.5 billion to settle the case. The suit was brought on behalf of investors in the technology stocks.
“As Judge Scheindlin notes, we did the best we could against 110 law firms representing the most powerful people and firms on Wall Street,” Howard Sirota, a lawyer for the investors, said after the ruling.
“We are very pleased to be one important step closer to compensating investors who were injured in the dot-com IPO period of 1998 to 2000,” said Stanley Bernstein, another lawyer for the investors.
The recovery is about 2 percent of potential trial damages, Bernstein said previously. Scheindlin said in June the fractional payout may reflect the fiscal distress of the world’s investment banks following the credit-market collapse.
... ... ...
Dozens of banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other financial firms denied wrongdoing.
... ... ... In the IPO frenzy of the late 1990s, banks raised about $130 billion for companies they brought to market while generating billions in fees. Investors who received IPO shares profited from selling stock as prices soared. Many of those stocks later plummeted and the companies declared bankruptcy.
Investors who bought shares after trading began said the banks had secret arrangements requiring IPO clients to buy more stock later at higher prices. That created artificial demand that drove up prices until they collapsed, investors said.
Suits in 2001
The earliest lawsuits were filed in 2001. Settlement talks went on for years.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed in 2006 to pay $425 million to settle its portion of the case. That settlement was scuttled after a federal appeals court overturned the approval of the case as a class-action, or group, lawsuit, saying it must proceed on behalf of fewer investors.
Brian Marchiony, a JPMorgan spokesman, declined to comment on today’s proceedings.
Internet startups such as Razorfish Inc. and Red Hat Inc. agreed in 2003 to pay $1 billion to settle. That deal was tossed out as a result of the same appellate ruling.
Lawyers representing the investors in the case sought legal fees of $195 million out of the settlement amount, plus another $50 million in expenses. The judge granted legal fees of $170 million and $47 million in expenses.
The case is In Re Initial Public Offering Securities Litigation, 21-MC-92, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Unfortunately Linus Torvalds and Linux companies became part of this huge "make money fast" scam played on unsuspecting public by investment banks and venture capitalists firms; Linus mainly served as patsy in well trained hands of PR staff of investment banks. And companies like Red Hat serves as a willing conspirators and money transmission mechanism to key media personalities who greased with their personal charm the whole scam. Starting from approximately 1997 till 1999, the growing use of high-speed internet by individuals and businesses meant that if you had Linux and “.com” at the end of your domain name as well as the name of the company, you didn’t need no stinking’ business plan.
My experience leads me to believe that while easy money from VC were the main stimulus for con-games to create a company, hyping and taking public those ventures were in firm hands of much more dangerous folk in investment banks. This separation of duties played out extremely well. Here a very sinister role was played by Goldman Sachs.
It really doesn't take that much money or intellect to make a Web site extolling virtues of non-existent or weak product based on Linux, put an Internet front-end, finance the company for couple of years, sell it to the public and then leave the investors to hang dry. This is just an Internet-enabled variant of centuries old "pump and dump" scheme but it way practiced on the scale that previous generation crooks could only envy.
Like PR people like to say its all about perception, not about reality. Maybe all of the baby-boomers who bet (and lost) their retirements on the Linux startups IPOs will be happy to know that such mania are periodic event in human history since the tulip bubble. Long before anyone ever heard of Linux and Linux startups like Red Hat, VA Linux, and Caldera that have soared during the technobuble, there were tulips. In 1593, a Vienna botany professor brought a collection of unusual bulbs to Holland that had originated in Turkey. That triggered events that led to one of the most spectacular get-rich-quick binges in history. Over the next decade, the tulip became a popular, but expensive item in Dutch gardens. These flowers were stricken with a non-fatal virus known as mosaic. The virus caused the tulip petals to develop colored stripes which led to wild speculation in tulip bulbs. Popular taste dictated that the more varied stripes has the bulb, the greater the cost. Bulb prices rose out of control. The more expensive the bulbs became, the more people viewed them as smart investments. The ordinary industry of the country was dropped in favor of speculation in tulip bulbs.
Everyone imagined that the demand for tulips would last forever and that people all over the world would pay any price for them. People who claimed prices could not possibly go higher watched their friends make enormous profits. The temptation to join them was irresistible and few Dutchmen sat on the sidelines. In the last years of the tulip craze, which occurred from 1634–1637, people bartered their personal belongings, land, jewels and furniture to obtain the investment that would quickly make them rich.
As happens in all speculative crazes, prices eventually soared so high that some people decided they should sell. Soon others followed with a snowball effect. The government tried to calm panic stating officially that there was no reason for tulip bulbs to fall in price – but no one listened. Dealers went bankrupt and most bulbs became worthless – selling for no more than the price of an onion.
Here is how Business Week describes tulipomania:
To citizens of 17th century Holland, tulips became the most desirable item to have. Around 1624, the Amsterdam man who owned the only dozen specimens was offered 3,000 guilders for one bulb. While there's no accurate way to render that in today's dollars, the sum was approximately equal to the annual income of a wealthy merchant. (Rembrandt received about half that amount for painting The Night Watch a few years later). Bulb prices rose steadily throughout the 1630s, as ever more speculators wedged into the market. Farmers mortgaged whatever they could to raise cash to begin trading. In 1633, a farmhouse in Hoorn changed hands for three rare bulbs. By 1636 any tulip--even bulbs recently considered garbage--could be sold off, often for hundreds of guilders. A futures market for bulbs existed, and tulip traders could be found conducting their business in hundreds of Dutch taverns. Tulip mania reached its peak during the winter of 1636-37, when some bulbs were changing hands ten times in a day. The zenith came early that winter, at an auction to benefit seven orphans whose only asset was 70 fine tulips left by their father. One, a rare Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen bulb that was about to split in two, sold for 5,200 guilders, the all-time record. All told, the flowers brought in nearly 53,000 guilders. Soon after, the tulip market crashed utterly, spectacularly. It began in Haarlem, at a routine bulb auction when, for the first time, the greater fool refused to show up and pay. Within days, the panic had spread across the country. Despite the efforts of traders to prop up demand, the market for tulips evaporated. Flowers that had commanded 5,000 guilders a few weeks before now fetched one-hundredth that amount.
It was a similar epidemics of greed that sent in the end of XX century the classic rule of thumb for investment banks "Don't take a company public until it has three quarters of profits" to the waist basket. You can spoke about lower ethical standards, but in reality it was just classic example of criminality and greed that broke the system (actually criminality aided and abetted at the hiest levels of the US goverment due to deregulation push by US investmant banks. Actually Linux IPO gold rush was just a part of a bigger gold rush, the Internet bubble.
According to Thomson Financial, taking public hundreds of companies that have no sustainable business model and no profits, investment bankers took in $2.1 billion just in underwriting fees since 1997.
Taking public hundreds of companies that have no sustainable business model and no profits, investment bankers took in $2.1 billion just in underwriting fees since 1997
It is interesting to note that much more then $2.5 trillion later has disappeared from the market since the February 2000 in a process that was later called "Dot com bubble bust". That means that never before investment companies managed so skillfully to part investors with their money.
Never before investment companies managed to help so many investors to lose so much money so fast
For example, in May 2001 of the 367 Internet firms taken public since 1997 that are still trading, the stocks of 316 were below their offering prices. Along with classic example of VA Linux one can find hundred, if not thousand of other no less striking examples. Some even manage to beat VA Linux in the speed of downward spiral: Pets.com Inc. managed to go from its $66 million IPO to closing its doors in just 10 months.
|Some even manage to beat VA Linux in the speed of downward spiral: Pets.com Inc. managed to go from its $66 million IPO to closing its doors in just 10 months.|
At the same time several America's leading investment banks reaped millions in fees. And Linux IPOs played a minor but still historically important part in this scheme. Only in retrospect it became clear that they were playing a different, more sophisticated and cruel money game than the investors. Investors that naively expected on stocks rising from their IPO levels to make money were burned, but investment bankers took their cash up front and if the stock went down, they already had their money in the bank.
For example , for poor Pet.com mentioned above Merrill Lynch took in fees of about $4.6 million: that is almost 5% of approximately $100 million Merrill got since 1997 for Internet IPOs.
Later when class action lawsuit was brought against both investment banks and tech companies that were brought to public using laddering (scheme in which larger pools of shares are allocated to investors who promise to take bigger stakes after the stock hits the open market. In addition, those who got large number of IPOs shares were compelled to give extra compensation to the banks, sometimes through inflated commissions on other trades. Later, after the so-called "quiet period" that follows IPOs, analysts who worked for the banks issued favorable research to fluff up the stocks, whether they were worthy or not).
U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin decided the cases could go forward, rejecting a bid by the investment banks to dismiss the case. Scheindlin reviewed more than 1,000 suits and found that investors had presented "a coherent scheme" in which the banks joined with Internet companies to defraud the public by hiding secret deals and analyst conflicts to artificially inflate new shares and deliver payoffs to insiders. If the allegations are true, she wrote in her 238-page ruling, "this scheme offends the very purpose of the securities laws." See InformationWeek IPO Fraud Tech Company Insurers To Pay At Least $1 Billion In IPO Fraud Case June 27, 2003 for more details:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Hundreds of companies that staged hot initial public offerings during the tech boom will pay $1 billion to investors under a tentative partial settlement announced Thursday, and cooperate in ongoing litigation against 55 brokerage firms accused of funneling huge payoffs to insiders through secret deals.
The massive case involves 309 separate suits filed against 55 investment banks, more than 300 companies that went public between 1998 and 2000, and an unspecified number of their individual corporate officers and directors. The total number of defendants could be more than 1,000; companies involved include Global Crossing, MP3.com, Ask Jeeves Inc., and Red Hat Inc.
The proposed settlement guarantees the plaintiffs will receive at least $1 billion, to be paid by the tech companies' insurers, said Melvyn I. Weiss, chairman of a committee of attorneys representing the investors. The plaintiffs hope that settling with the companies that issued the stock--who they say knew or should have known about the alleged misconduct--will strengthen their position as they continue negotiating with the investment banks.
"We have always been of the mind that the primary target in this case is the underwriting community," Weiss said. "This gives us a huge booster shot in our case against them."
The plaintiffs are looking to recover "many billions" of dollars from the investment banks, Weiss said. The firms, including J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse First Boston, Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney, are accused of plotting to artificially inflate the value of IPO stocks through a practice called "laddering," in which larger shares are allocated to investors who promise to take bigger stakes after the stock hits the open market.
In addition, some customers who invested in IPOs were compelled to give extra compensation to the banks, sometimes through inflated commissions on other trades. Later, after the so-called "quiet period" that follows IPOs, analysts who worked for the banks issued favorable research to fluff up the stocks, whether they were worthy or not.
As part of the settlement, the tech companies have agreed that any claims they might have against the investment banks will be assigned to the plaintiffs' class. Their cooperation may also help speed the discovery process, Weiss said.
"They participated in road shows, they had conversations with the underwriters," Weiss said. "They may have been misled as to what compensation the underwriters were receiving. ... all of this is important to us."
Most of those involved have approved the settlement, Weiss said, which also must be approved by the court.
No funds will be paid to investors until the case against the banks is resolved, however. If more than $1 billion is recovered from the banks, the tech companies' will not have to pay anything, the lawyers said. If the award is more than $5 billion, the tech companies and their insurers will be able to recover expenses.
The settlement was reached after more than a year and a half of negotiation between lawyers for the investors, the tech companies and at least 42 primary insurers. Attorneys involved agree it is among the most complicated cases in U.S. history.
"This is by far the most complex securities litigation that has ever been brought, and the settlement process is equally complex," said Jack Auspitz, a lawyer with Morrison & Forester, who represents 30 to 40 of the Internet companies.
In February, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin decided the cases could go forward, rejecting a bid by the investment banks to dismiss the case.
Scheindlin reviewed more than 1,000 suits and found that investors had presented "a coherent scheme" in which the banks joined with Internet companies to defraud the public by hiding secret deals and analyst conflicts to artificially inflate new shares and deliver payoffs to insiders. If the allegations are true, she wrote in her 238-page ruling, "this scheme offends the very purpose of the securities laws."
The Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Securities Dealers conducted an extensive investigation of Wall Street's dealings in IPOs. Regulators have recommended strict limits on several questionable practices popular during the tech boom, including laddering.
Ten of the largest investment banks agreed to change their research and IPO practices in a $1.4 billion settlement reached with regulators earlier this year.
The role of Goldman Sachs in the Internet bubble was documented in famous article by Matt Taibbi (RollingStone, Apr 5, 2010) where it was called "Vampire Squid":
Rubin was the prototypical Goldman banker. He was probably born in a $4,000 suit, he had a face that seemed permanently frozen just short of an apology for being so much smarter than you, and he exuded a Spock-like, emotion-neutral exterior; the only human feeling you could imagine him experiencing was a nightmare about being forced to fly coach. It became almost a national clichè that whatever Rubin thought was best for the economy — a phenomenon that reached its apex in 1999, when Rubin appeared on the cover of Time with his Treasury deputy, Larry Summers, and Fed chief Alan Greenspan under the headline The Committee To Save The World. And "what Rubin thought," mostly, was that the American economy, and in particular the financial markets, were over-regulated and needed to be set free. During his tenure at Treasury, the Clinton White House made a series of moves that would have drastic consequences for the global economy — beginning with Rubin's complete and total failure to regulate his
old firm during its first mad dash for obscene short-term profits.
The basic scam in the Internet Age is pretty easy even for the financially illiterate to grasp. Companies that weren't much more than potfueled ideas scrawled on napkins by uptoolate bongsmokers were taken public via IPOs, hyped in the media and sold to the public for mega-millions. It was as if banks like Goldman were wrapping ribbons around watermelons, tossing them out 50-story windows and opening the phones for bids. In this game you were a winner only if you took your money out before the melon hit the pavement.
It sounds obvious now, but what the average investor didn't know at the time was that the banks had changed the rules of the game, making the deals look better than they actually were. They did this by setting up what was, in reality, a two-tiered investment system — one for the insiders who knew the real numbers, and another for the lay investor who was invited to chase soaring prices the banks themselves knew were irrational. While Goldman's later pattern would be to capitalize on changes in the regulatory environment, its key innovation in the Internet years was to abandon its own industry's standards of quality control.
"Since the Depression, there were strict underwriting guidelines that Wall Street adhered to when taking a company public," says one prominent hedge-fund manager. "The company had to be in business for a minimum of five years, and it had to show profitability for three consecutive years. But Wall Street took these guidelines and threw them in the trash." Goldman completed the snow job by pumping up the sham stocks: "Their analysts were out there saying Bullshit.com is worth $100 a share."
The problem was, nobody told investors that the rules had changed. "Everyone on the inside knew," the manager says. "Bob Rubin sure as hell knew what the underwriting standards were. They'd been intact since the 1930s."
Jay Ritter, a professor of finance at the University of Florida who specializes in IPOs, says banks like Goldman knew full well that many of the public offerings they were touting would never make a dime. "In the early Eighties, the major underwriters insisted on three years of profitability. Then it was one year, then it was a quarter. By the time of the Internet bubble, they were not even requiring profitability in the foreseeable future."
Goldman has denied that it changed its underwriting standards during the Internet years, but its own statistics belie the claim. Just as it did with the investment trust in the 1920s, Goldman started slow and finished crazy in the Internet years. After it took a little-known company with weak financials called Yahoo! public in 1996, once the tech boom had already begun, Goldman quickly became the IPO king of the Internet era. Of the 24 companies it took public in 1997, a third were losing money at the time of the IPO. In 1999, at the height of the boom, it took 47 companies public, including stillborns like Webvan and eToys, investment offerings that were in many ways the modern equivalents of Blue Ridge and Shenandoah. The following year, it underwrote 18 companies in the first four months, 14 of which were money losers at the time. As a leading underwriter of Internet stocks during the boom, Goldman provided profits far more volatile than those of its competitors: In 1999, the average Goldman IPO leapt 281 percent above its offering price, compared to the Wall Street average of 181 percent.
How did Goldman achieve such extraordinary results? One answer is that they used a practice called "laddering," which is just a fancy way of saying they manipulated the share price of new offerings. Here's how it works: Say you're Goldman Sachs, and Bullshit.com comes to you and asks you to take their company public. You agree on the usual terms: You'll price the stock, determine how many shares should be released and take the Bullshit.com CEO on a "road show" to schmooze investors, all in exchange for a substantial fee (typically six to seven percent of the amount raised). You then promise your best clients the right to buy big chunks of the IPO at the low offering price — let's say Bullshit.com's starting share price is $15 — in exchange for a promise that they will buy more shares later on the open market. That seemingly simple demand gives you inside knowledge of the IPO's future, knowledge that wasn't disclosed to the day trader schmucks who only had the prospectus to go by: You know that certain of your clients who bought X amount of shares at $15 are also going to buy Y more shares at $20 or $25, virtually guaranteeing that the price is going to go to $25 and beyond. In this way, Goldman could artificially jack up the new company's price, which of course was to the bank's benefit — a six percent fee of a $500 million IPO is serious money.
Goldman was repeatedly sued by shareholders for engaging in laddering in a variety of Internet IPOs, including Webvan and NetZero. The deceptive practices also caught the attention of Nicholas Maier, the syndicate manager of Cramer & Co., the hedge fund run at the time by the now-famous chattering television asshole Jim Cramer, himself a Goldman alum. Maier told the SEC that while working for Cramer between 1996 and 1998, he was repeatedly forced to engage in laddering practices during IPO deals with Goldman.
"Goldman, from what I witnessed, they were the worst perpetrator," Maier said. "They totally fueled the bubble. And it's specifically that kind of behavior that has caused the market crash. They built these stocks upon an illegal foundation — manipulated up — and ultimately, it really was the small person who ended up buying in." In 2005, Goldman agreed to pay $40 million for its laddering violations — a puny penalty relative to the enormous profits it made. (Goldman, which has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases it has settled, refused to respond to questions for this story.)
Another practice Goldman engaged in during the Internet boom was "spinning," better known as bribery. Here the investment bank would offer the executives of the newly public company shares at extra-low prices, in exchange for future underwriting business. Banks that engaged in spinning would then undervalue the initial offering price — ensuring that those "hot" opening-price shares it had handed out to insiders would be more likely to rise quickly, supplying bigger first-day rewards for the chosen few. So instead of Bullshit.com opening at $20, the bank would approach the Bullshit.com CEO and offer him a million shares of his own company at $18 in exchange for future business — effectively robbing all of Bullshit's new shareholders by diverting cash that should have gone to the company's bottom line into the private bank account of the company's CEO.
In one case, Goldman allegedly gave a multimillion-dollar special offering to eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who later joined Goldman's board, in exchange for future i-banking business. According to a report by the House Financial Services Committee in 2002, Goldman gave special stock offerings to executives in 21 companies that it took public, including Yahoo! cofounder Jerry Yang and two of the great slithering villains of the financial-scandal age — Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski and Enron's Ken Lay. Goldman angrily denounced the report as "an egregious distortion of the facts" — shortly before paying $110 million to settle an investigation into spinning and other manipulations launched by New York state regulators. "The spinning of hot IPO shares was not a harmless corporate perk," then-attorney general Eliot Spitzer said at the time. "Instead, it was an integral part of a fraudulent scheme to win new investment-banking business."
Such practices conspired to turn the Internet bubble into one of the greatest financial disasters in world history: Some $5 trillion of wealth was wiped out on the NASDAQ alone. But the real problem wasn't the money that was lost by shareholders, it was the money gained by investment bankers, who received hefty bonuses for tampering with the market. Instead of teaching Wall Street a lesson that bubbles always deflate, the Internet years demonstrated to bankers that in the age of freely flowing capital and publicly owned financial companies, bubbles are incredibly easy to inflate, and individual bonuses are actually bigger when the mania and the irrationality are greater.
Nowhere was this truer than at Goldman. Between 1999 and 2002, the firm paid out $28.5 billion in compensation and benefits — an average of roughly $350,000 a year per employee. Those numbers are important because the key legacy of the Internet boom is that the economy is now driven in large part by the pursuit of the enormous salaries and bonuses that such bubbles make possible. Goldman's mantra of "long-term greedy" vanished into thin air as the game became about getting your check before the melon hit the pavement.
The market was no longer a rationally managed place to grow real, profitable businesses: It was a huge ocean of Someone Else's Money where bankers hauled in vast sums through whatever means necessary and tried to convert that money into bonuses and payouts as quickly as possible. If you laddered and spun 50 Internet IPOs that went bust within a year, so what? By the time the Securities and Exchange Commission got around to fining your firm $110 million, the yacht you bought with your IPO bonuses was already six years old. Besides, you were probably out of Goldman by then, running the U.S. Treasury or maybe the state of New Jersey. (One of the truly comic moments in the history of America's recent financial collapse came when Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who ran Goldman from 1994 to 1999 and left with $320 million in IPO-fattened stock, insisted in 2002 that "I've never even heard the term 'laddering' before.")
For a bank that paid out $7 billion a year in salaries, $110 million fines issued half a decade late were something far less than a deterrent —they were a joke. Once the Internet bubble burst, Goldman had no incentive to reassess its new, profit-driven strategy; it just searched around for another bubble to inflate. As it turns out, it had one ready, thanks in large part to Rubin.
But it's too simplistic to blame investment banks alone. This wave of greed affected other players too. Venture capitalists had an important place in this food chain. In exchange for footing the early costs of a startup, they got stock for pennies a share. That means that even if shares dove to a dollar per share after the offering, they can make a huge profit. And they probably played the second role after the investment banks in creating Linux gold rush and definitely deserve a share of blame for the Linux bust.
Institutional and individual investors are guilty too, because many got caught up in the Linux gold rush. After all the risks detailed in their offering documents often included phrases such as "unproven business model" and "may not continue as a going concern."
And people like Linus Torvalds served as public face of this crazy mania, smoothing public fears that this is just a scam. After the bubble burst, most investors shy away from investing in Linux startups, good and bad for a decade of so.
As I mentioned before the key idea was laddering: inflating the stock price at the beginning whatever it costs, allowing major players to cash out profits and then leaving the company to struggle with consequences. It was like building a bank branch in order to rob it later. That also means that high level executives in those companies were willing participants in a rather dirty game. In a free-market economy, companies are supposed to fail because of the recession of wrong business decisions or both. But here we essentially have a preprogrammed failures after the short initial inflated growth, hype and other dirty tricks due to sleazy practices, if not outright fraud. Off-balance sheeting and other "creative accounting" tricks became the requisite way to boost earnings. Slowly but surely financial truth disappeared and reported earning became an exercise in science-fiction.
Many naive investors, especially in open source community, embraced those stock because they believe that they contributed to a diversity on the market the suffered from Microsoft domination. They wanted to participate fairly in the creation of an alternative to Microsoft, but instead they became victims of unscrupulous "make money fast" adventurists and later saw their investments disappear.
At the end Linux companies IPOs did not pass a simple smell test. Even if company officers and investment firms and their lawyers can ultimately show that they following the letter of the law, after collapses of companies like VA Linux too many people remember those IPOs as yet another elaborate financial hoax.
Privately, some investment bankers admit the wrongdoing. But with the amount of money they got don't bet on the lessons leaned. In the cover story Net Money Game: How top financial firms reaped billions, while investors got burned" Business Week provided the following data:
Here's a look at how the companies backed by certain venture investors have performed since their initial public offerings. The period covered is since the beginning of 1997.
|Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers||23%|
|Internet Capital Group||-79%|
|Data: Venture Economics|
...First, the successes. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (MWD ) led the IPOs of many Net companies that have tumbled sharply from their offering prices. It reaped total underwriting fees of $350 million since 1997, according to Thomson Financial. But the firm has a respectable average return of 20% because of big hits with Net security systems developer VeriSign Inc. (VRSN ) and storage solutions provider Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (BRCD ) On the venture-capital side, Breyer's Accel Partners backed 30 companies that have gone public since 1997, and those upstarts have averaged returns of 55% for public shareholders, according to Venture Economics. They include audio and video software provider RealNetworks (RNWK ) and networking equipment maker Redback Networks Inc. (RBAK ) VC firms Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also have strong track records, with average returns of 54% and 23% respectively.
Few on Wall Street, however, have strong returns. While taking public hundreds of Net companies that have proved to be losers, investment bankers took in $2.1 billion in underwriting fees since 1997, according to Thomson Financial. The biggest names in the business led the charge. Goldman Sachs, arguably the most respected firm on Wall Street, reaped fees of $360 million by leading or co-leading the IPOs of 47 Net companies since 1997. Now, 38 of those companies have stocks trading below their offering prices, and two more have shut down. The average return for investors is -16%. Relatively, that's not bad. Credit Suisse First Boston, Robertson Stephens, Bear Stearns (BSC ), Lehman (LEH ), and Merrill Lynch all averaged returns of -45% or worse, according to Thomson Financial's figures. "Clearly, lots of very high-risk companies went public, and the investment bankers didn't show a whole lot of discipline in turning down deals," says E. David Coolidge III, chief executive officer at William Blair & Co., a 65-year-old Chicago investment bank that largely sat out the Net boom.
Some bankers take issue with the numbers. Execs at CS First Boston contend that their track record should be measured only since star tech banker Frank Quattrone and his team moved to the firm in mid-1998. If you measure the years 1999 and 2000 and include the IPOs that CS First Boston considers Net companies, the firm's average return is -55%, which is not as low as the returns they claim that Morgan Stanley and Goldman had. "The performance of Internet stocks has been pretty ugly for all of us," says John Hodge, managing director for U.S. technology corporate finance at CS First Boston. "But we did more deals and our average returns are better."
Lack of insight. If the results have been ugly, investment bankers point out that they were struggling with some of the same issues as investors. Companies were going public so early that Wall Streeters had a hard time differentiating winners and losers. "Because the market was clamoring for these companies, we had to make judgments earlier in companies' life cycles," says Goldman's Koenig. "The market was interested in investing in these companies at a stage when proof of viability was impossible to get."
How have investment banks performed in taking Internet companies public? Here's a look at the average returns for the Net companies taken public since 1997 by each bank.
Morgan Stanley & Co. 20% Salomon Smith Barney -14% Goldman Sachs & Co. -16% Deutsche Bank AG -41% CS First Boston -41% Lehman Brothers -59% JP Morgan -59% Bear Stearns & Co Inc -65% Robertson Stephens -65% Merrill Lynch & Co. -82% Data: Thomson Financial Securities Data, Business Week
The track record suggests some investment banks didn't have any more insight into the prospects for certain companies than the average investor. And they actually not care a dime about what they were selling to public. Fleecing suckers as fast as possible was the name of the game. Lehman Brothers Inc. led the IPO of U.S. Interactive Inc., a Net consulting firm based in King of Prussia, Pa., in August, 1999, at $10. The stock surged to $76.50 in January, 2000, and then began a steady slide. Lehman analyst Karl Keirstead issued buy recommendations seven times between February and early September, 2000, as the stock dropped 92%, to $6.50. Only after the company disclosed on Sept. 20 that it would miss third-quarter financial estimates did Keirstead downgrade the stock--and then merely to "outperform." Since then, U.S. Interactive has dropped to 50 cents a share and, in January, filed for bankruptcy. Sharon Wilson, an accountant in Oregon who's nearing retirement, was one investor who got nailed. She began buying U.S. Interactive at $73.15 a share and ended up paying about $13,000 for 5,000 shares. Now, Wilson is out at least $10,000. "Many of us are ready to shoot most of the analysts out there," she says.
Lehman and Keirstead didn't fare too badly, though. The firm received fees of about $2 million for managing the books for U.S. Interactive's IPO, according to Thomson Financial. Even without U.S. Interactive, its track record isn't one to brag about: For the 15 Net companies it took public that still trade, investors have lost an average of 59% from the IPO price. They include online community developer Talk City (TCTY ) (down 99%), health site HealthCentral.com (down 97%), and ad tech firm Mediaplex (down 95%). Keirstead did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Other Wall Street heavyweights played the same game. In May, 1999, Salomon Smith Barney led the IPO of Juno Online Services Inc. (JWEB ), a New York company that provided free e-mail service and later started offering free Internet access. In June, Lanny Baker, Salomon's Net analyst, issued a report with a buy recommendation on Juno, and by December, 1999, the stock hit a peak of $87, up from its $13 offering price.
But skeptics saw a classic Net-craze company. "There was no there there," says Steve Worthington, a portfolio manager at Barbary Coast Capital Management who sold Juno's stock short. "Giving away stuff for free never seemed like much of a business." Over the first half of 2000, investors came to agree, as Juno shares slid to less than $10. Even after that drop, Baker issued another report on June 1 that recommended investors buy the stock. While the stock recovered briefly to close at $12.44 on June 7, it then went into a slow, steady slide. On Aug. 2, with the stock again below $10, Baker downgraded the stock to neutral, and it now trades at about $1. Salomon defends its support of Juno. "We believed in Juno," says Christenson. "We were wrong."
... ... ...
The truth is that some investment firms do not need any insight and do not care about the future of the company they brought to market. They want their money "now" and get them. Essentially this was the latest reincarnation of the famous "After me deluge" principle, if you wish. As Washington Post noticed in the paper Collapse of Dot-Coms Stifles Tech Innovators:
Caught in the middle in these uneasy economic times is the inventor, the hero of the new economy.
Some technologists complain that they have had trouble raising money for ideas that a year ago would have been shoo-ins for funding. That isn't to say they are out of work. Jobs for skilled tech workers are still plentiful. Pay is still good. But more than a few engineers are now finding themselves doing what amounts to virtual construction work, such as creating bill-payment or shopping systems, or securing corporate networks.
"Last year 80 percent of the technical jobs were creative, new. Now it's, like, 80 percent practical," said Paul Villella, president of HireStrategy.com, a Washington area online recruiting firm. "We've seen a complete reversal in the job market. It's not fun, innovative stuff anymore. It's more 'we-gotta-get-it-done and make-it-work' type work."
That transformation hasn't been good for morale.
It's well known that Microsoft was an implicit force behind the Linux meteoric rise. Without Microsoft creating a PC standard and supporting it by its market weight as well as deep need for the alternative OS on PC, Linux might never leave the world of amateur OS designers. But what is the most interesting observation is that Linux itself played in free/open software development world the role that was surprisingly similar role with its Microsoft Windows in the world of commercial software. Linux emulated Microsoft Windows in several non-obvious ways. One of the was fighting off federal lawsuit.
|...at one point in this movie Steve Jobs is raising the
same argument to Bill Gates: "We are better than you are..."
For this Bill Gates grins confidently, "That doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter"
Jobs: "You stole it from ussss!"
This was a long and complex lawsuit and it's better to find all detail of it elsewhere. We will discuss it only as for the paradoxical role of Linux in this lawsuit. In short, Microsoft was accused in destroying Netscape and abusing its monopoly on the desktop. In reality all monopolists tend to abuse their power and Microsoft behaved more like a benevolent dictator then a destroyer of the marketplace, at least it behaved much better then IBM two decades ago (in the mainframe era). This is especially true regarding Oracle, one of the companies who (many suspect) where one of the major driving forces behind this federal lawsuit.
Actually competition to a certain extent survived and both Oracle and Linux were pretty convincing illustrations of this fact. The success of Linux also undermined the case for Netscape. It's clear that the real factors behind Netscape demise were more complex than Microsoft bundling it's IE with Windows. I strongly doubt that Netscape would survive even if Microsoft implemented a special selection screen (Netscape or IE) during the Windows installation.
All-in-all it's pretty stupid to portray Microsoft users as poor, misguided lemmings — people who haven't had their eyes opened to the joys of Netscape, Linux or the Mac OS, or who are forced by Microsoft to use inferior Office suit, browser, media player and/or messaging software because they come with Windows. But who is forcing whom? Who forced me to use Microsoft FrontPage for creating those pages despite this site open source orientation ? Nothing prevents me from installing Dreamweaver or whatever better HTML editor I can find on the market. I just did not find an HTML editor that can convince me to switch from FrontPage despite the fact that Dreamweaver is the standard HTML editor for my "day-time" employer. And nothing prevents me from uninstalling Windows at home and using only Linux or Solaris or OS X as a client OS. Moreover I do use Linux as a home server (despite the fact that I have an unopened box of NT4 server in the closet as well as several licenses for Windows 2003 server), so that would even make the environment more homogeneous and much easier to manage. The problem is that I do not see any evidence that benefits would outweigh shortcomings of such a solution.
Actually with Office 2000 it looks for me that Microsoft is behaving not like a monopolist, but like a company that is struggling to keep pace with a competing software in the saturated marketplace and is pressed by competition to slash prices. You can get OEM Office 2000 standard for less than $200. That means that Word, Excel and PowerPoint and Outlook are less than $50 each -- which is a typical shareware price; I doubt that you can find alternative shareware products of comparable quality and functionality for such a price. And if somebody want to use Word Perfect instead of Word nothing in Windows prevents him to do that even without being a professional programmer, like many lawyers know pretty well ;-). Actually Dell installs it on cheaper PCs instead of MS Office to cut costs.
Linux role in this lawsuit was proving (by government own standards) that there is a competition in the OS market and that Microsoft does not artificially forcing "lock-in" on consumers -- if somebody wants to use alternative OS or alternative applications suit like many Linux users prefer, he or she definitely can. In a recent paper David S. Evans and Richard Schmalensee suggested that classic antitrust law might not be the best tool to deal with these issues. The two economists, who have written papers and legal filings supporting Microsoft's position in its antitrust case, said that government should act to keep companies from abusing their monopoly power to undercut competitors, but that "the application of antitrust principles should take account of the important ways new-economy industries differ from traditional ones. " In particular, they wrote, if a dominant company can prove that there is healthy competition despite its commanding share of a market that has winner-take-all characteristics, that fact "should be a defense to claims of predation."
The similarity of Microsoft rise to power and Linux rise and subsequent Linux IPO gold rush were pretty interesting phenomena if you take into account that Linux was not the best offering in the open OS arena: it seems that like in case of MS DOS some other non-technical forces helped Linux to achieve its prominence in the free/open source space. Here Linux could be even more valuable to Microsoft as a legal defense, but Microsoft lawyers did not use this argument ;-). And whatever the answer in the Microsoft case, there is a growing realization that Microsoft may be only the most visible symptom of a bigger and more severe problem afflicting software and Internet development.
It seems there are some implicit economic and social forces/factors that help to create dominant companies in the software space be it a commercial space (Microsoft) or open source space (Linux). And it's easy to see that the same forces that raise Microsoft to prominence are active in open/free software microcosm and helped to get Linux to the same position (unfairly as many BSD lovers can attest). The only problem is that Linux users are a minority and probably will remain a minority in the decade to come. So the real question is to what extent they deserve "an affirmative action" campaign from the government as well as from major UNIX vendors like IBM, Sun and HP. The whole complexity of the "affirmative action' issue toward minorities is now bound to be played in tech. arena.
This implicit "customer-lock-in effect" similar to Microsoft vs. Netscape we saw in the fight between FreeBSD and Linux. Actually for most users Linux is synonymous with Red Hat, the fact that illustrates this "lock-in" effect even more convincingly. It creates a different kind of barrier to entry for newcomers — not the cost to the company of entering the market, but the cost to create an infrastructure. You may think that bloated Linux kernel is inferior to the simpler and more elegant BSD kernel, but just count the number of Linux books vs. the number of FreeBSD books and the number of native Linux applications vs. native FreeBSD applications. Than you might understand better the potential cost for consumers willing to make a switch to technically superior FreeBSD camp. Until Apple entrance into the game the application space for Linux was much more developed than FreeBSD space and that creates serious difficulties for the potential OS switchers. Look how many specialists that previously almost exclusively use FreeBSD are now flirting with Linux :-)
There can be even factors unique to the world of software that makes it a field were "natural monopolies" can flourish. Some economists suggested that there is a special "software networking effect": the value of a software grows geometrically as more and more people use it. This "software networking effect" can be seen in technologies like Napster and America Online's Instant Messenger. In the latter case, once people realized that they can communicate online in real time using this protocol, it became a must-have, and its use exploded, rapidly bringing AOL a near-lock of a market that Microsoft now is struggling to break into.
Put all of these together and you get an environment in which benefits
the biggest and the most ruthless player and where consumers themselves
reward the dominant player to increase its lock on the market irrespective
to the technical quality ("good enough" effect). The result is a number
of markets dominated by the biggest player. And this effect is not
limited to software. Intel
Talented managers and managed development is the key to a quality large scale software development. No anarchistic gang of developers can really compete with the real organization headed by a talented manager and bound together by iron discipline with the threat of being fired a powerful enforcer. And that's the lesson of development of Linux. And I think that paradoxically one of the achievements of Linus Torvalds is that he from the beginning tend to use classic management style of closed-source project in open source environment.
And his brave and smart idea to promote commercial distribution of Linux and commercial distributors instead of Gosplan (of USSR fame) style Free Software Foundation speaks volumes in this respect. That was essentially a turning point of the development: open source projects managed by commercial companies with the explicit aim of cheapening or even outsourcing their operations.
This idea was probably best formulated by Fred Baker -- a "fellow" at Cisco and the former head of the Internet Engineering Task Force. As reported in Open Sourcers Shy From Criticism he noted:
While noting that "a lot of the actual technology that built the Internet was open source," Baker made the point that in order to keep a software project "stable," it must inevitably be managed by a commercial company. "Managed development is the key to a quality product," he said.
And he did have a point -- many open projects are managed by commercial companies, and it shouldn't be inflammatory to say so. It is also to be expected that a certain proportion of any popular movement will be zealots, and as bigoted as such folk tend to be.
Paradoxically Linux and Microsoft's can be considered close allies that both try to dislodge classic Unix as the dominant OS within the next decade. The shift had started with smaller businesses moving to install Linux instead of Unix workstations and for file and print services, replacing lower-end Unixes such as Solaris, AIX and HP-UX. Both Linux and Microsoft gain ground as IT managers try to take advantage of the cheaper maintenance of Linux and Windows in comparison with proprietary Unixes. They also want to replace more expensive Risk servers with cheaper Intel-based servers.
As major software vendors declare support for Linux it becomes a real threat for Risk boxes on low end and partially on midrange. The other reason is that Linux is close enough to other Unixes and transition is more or less smooth and does not require extensive retraining of staff.
In 1999 HP declared that it is was no longer committed to it PA RISC architecture, moving instead to Itanium, making HP the first vendor that more or less openly embraced Linux as an alternative to its own proprietary version of Unix (HP-UX). They even hired a Linux evangelist Bruce Perens to help them to destroy HP-UX market share ;-). He later was fired, but still managed to inflict a lot of damage.
Just before going down in flames, Caldera that was traditionally considered to be a second after Red Hat Linux distributor, managed to acquire SCO and essentially killed SCO Unix. Although not that successful during the IPO as Red Hat, Caldera was a pretty rich company even before IPO due to Microsoft settlement money ($400 million in cash) and actually did not need IPO to raise money as badly as Red Hat and VA Linux. Still greed is greed...
Paradoxically in some sense those extorted due to successful DR Dos lawsuit money from Microsoft turned to be a rather shrewd Microsoft investment. They continued working for Microsoft even after they moved into Caldera bank account: they helped to kill the Server Unix and Professional Services division of Santa Cruz Operations (SCO), the previous leader of commercial Unix on Intel. Even when Linux fashion wave started, SCO was the leading Unix distributor holding 37% of the Unix market with 313,000 software license shipments in 1999, compared to Sun's 22% of the market. But in 2000 Linux managed significantly undermined SCO market share and especially the mind share. That's why the company fall victim of this new competitor.
That event showed one again that contrary to popular belief Linux is not cannibalizing Microsoft share on desktop and has difficulties fighting with Microsoft on Intel servers due to Microsoft dominance on the desktop. Actually the share of Linux desktops may well be flat (less than 5%) or even shrinking percentage wise as most new PC are still shipping with Windows preinstalled. As a desktop Linux is just sitting somewhere on the periphery serving special needs of certain small user subgroups.
At the same time Linux proved to be a very potent threat to it's Unix proprietary friends as a low level to midrange departmental server and WEB server and in those roles it has been replacing products such as SCO Unix and Solaris on Intel (as well as proprietary architectures by IBM, HP-UX and Sun). In the third quarter of 2000 SCO reported loss of $19.24 millions, three times that expected, and was hemorrhaging cash at a speed that cannot be sustained. That make the company ripe for an acquisition and in August, 2000 after two years of free fall of stock price the company was acquired by Caldera. Actually Caldera acquired not all company but just SCO's server software division and professional services division. The other part of the company remained independent, got some money and said it will use the new funds to invest in its Tarantella software, which it retains along with its Unix intellectual property rights. SCO surviving part was very tiny: Tarantella revenues amounted to just $2.5m in the third quarter of 2000.
SCO's server software and professional services divisions has been bought for 17.54 million shares (28 per cent of the company) plus $7m cash. At this time Caldera's share price was around $7, which made the deal worth $130 million. Stock in both companies has been in free fall for a long time. SCO's stock price has fallen from over $31 to under $4 since the start of the 2000. Caldera shares have fallen from a top price of $33 in April to $7.
Caldera decided to continue to run the OpenServer Unix-on-Intel operating system, which generated just $11.1m revenue in the third quarter of fiscal 2000, as a separate unit through new holding company Caldera Inc, but soon changed its mind and reorganized under the name of SCO. The acquisition opened an interesting possibility for Caldera in view of previous SCO involvement with the Monterey project, the possibility which was not entirely dissimilar to the Caldera move to acquire DrDos and sue Microsoft. The potential problem was that SCO crown jewels: proprietary clustering technologies for political reasons were pushed by IBM to Linux community. This threat later materialized, but the story of SCO lawsuit against IBM is beyond the scope of this book.
I would mention that it can one positive effect from SCO vs. IBM lawsuit: due to potential legal problems Linus Torvalds was promptly shipped from Transmeta to Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), the cooperative financed by several big companies (Intel, IBM, HP) interested in Linux. Unlike Transmeta OSLD looks like a place where he logically belongs. And for Linus there was no money to be made on Transmeta anymore, the company would just be lucky to survive. Actually it is pretty unpleasant to fire coworkers, so moving lift this psychological burden from Linus shoulders.
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