LifeMinders.com has more than 4 million members. An article in Sunday's Business section misstated the number. (Published 12/03/1999)
Editor's note: Before a company's stock begins public trading, its shares are distributed to a network of investors, primarily big institutions such as mutual funds, but also to selected friends and family members of the company's top executives. Company insiders are generally prohibited from selling their shares for first six months after the IPO, but the other investors can sell any time.
Thursday night, Nov. 18: It's exciting! It's nerve-racking! It's Las Vegas without the sound effects! Ka-ching, ka-ching--my chips will be stacked tomorrow morning on an IPO called LifeMinders.com. That is, as soon as I can get past this hellish voice-mail system! As part of a "friends and family" stock-buying program, I'm privileged to purchase shares of this Internet start-up tonight--before it goes public in the morning. But first I have to reach one of the 20-something voices at the brokerage firm of Hambrecht & Quist, "between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. or before the market opens."
5:15 p.m.: I'm getting their voice mail. Panic. The office is closed! There must have been an after-hours number! I punch in the San Francisco number listed at the top of H&Q's stationery. It's three hours earlier there; somebody must be working. Whew. I get a direct-dial number to New York. "It hasn't been priced yet. Call back at 6."
I call at 6, at 7, at 8 o'clock. Still no price. What are they doing? Arguing? Calculating? Consulting a crystal ball? I haven't a clue!
9 p.m.: At last, there is a price--$14--but she can't take my order because she doesn't have the paperwork. "We'll call you back!" she chirps. Yeah, right.
One of the founders of LifeMinders.com, John Chapin, is a friend of ours. A decade younger than me, he's about to become a hell of a lot richer by creating an Internet service that sends friendly e-mail reminders and helpful tips (from advertisers) to 3 million demographically pigeonholed people. But, putting the green monster of "Internet envy" aside, I am thrilled and scared to do this. I've been a LifeMinders subscriber for more than a year now, signing on when John and his wife, Gabe, were practically soliciting members one by one. So when I heard they might be "going public," I asked if we could invest. I can buy 1,000 shares at the "official" price of $14 a share. Hopefully, the stock will begin public trading above $14 so that I will make money as soon as it "opens."
9:30 p.m.: I'm driving home with my cell phone on. No call. At 9:50 I start dialing numbers like mad. Voice-mail hell again. At last I get a weary person. "Oh, my God, you should see this list," he says.
I probably could have reached him at midnight. He gives me an account number. "You get 1,000 shares. Send $14,000," he says.
That's it. I'm in!
Fourteen thousand dollars is not a huge sum of money for us, but it's enough to make a difference in our home-renovation plans. If this stock rockets up to $50, I can have my new kitchen without guilt--granite counter tops, Sub-Zero refrigerator--the whole works! If it goes down, well, my children won't starve, but it will put a depressing dent in our construction budget.
My husband has been buying stock in a safe, adult sort of way (buy and hold) since he was a kid and his grandfather started giving him stock certificates.
That's nothing like this, which is, well, legalized gambling. But Matt's off on a business trip in South Africa and I am alone to face the big bad Nasdaq monster. I admit it: I am totally intimidated!
Friday, 9:30 a.m.: The market is open. Oh, my god. I'm a player! A Master of the Universe! Where's the ticker? I can't read this darn thing. LifeMinders won't even start trading until after 11 a.m., but I've got CNBC on in the kitchen and MSNBC in the family room (there might be an earthquake or a mass murder that will affect the market), and my computer is on the Web at Hoover's Online. Thank goodness my husband had the foresight to get DSL service. At first I thought it was an extravagance, but now I'm addicted. And today it's a lifeline. So I'm wired and waiting. And waiting.
9:45 a.m.: I practice what I'll say when I call Hambrecht & Quist. "I'd like to place a limit at 50." Is that right? "I like a $50 limit." No, that's not it. I want to sound like I've been doing this all my life.
9:50 a.m.: It's after the opening bell. John and his brother Steve, the chief executive of LifeMinders, got to "turn on" the Nasdaq board today, but I don't see them. A perky young reporter stands on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor and announces that the market is slowly "heading south" today. Oh, no. Not on my day! The Dow Jones industrial average is off 50 points, and the Nasdaq composite index is down 4 points. It appears that a sell-off is in progress after yesterday's rally. I can't believe that's me talking and I know what I'm talking about!
10 a.m.: I call my friend Daniel in Chicago. He's a documentary filmmaker-turned-day trader. He laughs when I tell him I want to place a limit order for $50. "It's not gonna go that high," he says, matter-of-factly. "Sell half at $30." Okay. So, I won't get the whole kitchen today. I'll settle for standard-size cabinets--but I want that granite!
10:45 a.m.: Waiting at the chiropractor's office--an appointment made before I knew that LifeMinders wouldn't start trading until midday. I call Daniel again. "Anything happening?" He's trading. "I'll call you back." Click.
11:30 a.m.: Back home, back to CNBC. Where's the buzz? LifeMinders.com is trading today and no one on "The Street" is even talking about it!
12:30 p.m.: Still waiting for Daniel to call. It must be trading by now. In the meantime, I'm power-eating to cope with my anxiety and watching CNBC. Boy, these guys don't even have to interrupt their trading during commercials--there's the ticker still scrolling, scrolling along. There it is! In between bites on a drumstick, I look up just in time to see "LFMN" scroll across. It's at 19 1/2. It's up 5 1/2 points right out of the box. That means I've just made $5,500! Wow! This is incredible!
12:40 p.m.: Daniel calls to say that LifeMinders is at 20. He bought 500 shares, too. He thinks it won't go much higher today, but then he's a pessimist. The hot IPO of the day is CacheFlow, which he thinks will open over 100. I'm trying not to feel disappointed. After all, I've already made $6,000 in half an hour. Hooray! A new Viking stove! Wait! I don't even want a Viking stove!
I'm not too disappointed that the stock didn't double or triple on opening. After reading everything I could find on Internet IPOs, I've concluded that the hottest new issues are usually those offering some new infrastructure for the Internet. Content providers may do well, but they're mostly not in the top 10.
My heart rate has settled a bit, so I pop over to the computer, pull up E-Trade's Web site and click into the discussion-groups area. Last night I had placed a query there: "What do you think of LifeMinder.com tomorrow?" Maybe the pros will give me their insider views. There are dozens of comments written in "traderspeak," but I can't make heads or tails of them. Only one person has responded to me, simply to ask if I had bought some LFMN and to wish me luck. Now's the time to make a quick trip to the movie theater to buy "Pokemon: The First Movie" tickets for my son.
1:20 p.m.: With my computer still set on E-Trade's Web site, I go to "stock quotes" and discover that I can get as many as 100 real-time quotes today by clicking through a very, very long form. I must agree to hold Nasdaq and E-Trade harmless for all kinds of potential disasters, mostly having to do with losing money in the stock market. Done. Click for real-time quote. There's LFMN. It's at 23-13/16. Up 70 percent since it opened! I've made more than $9,000 so far today! I am thinking about calling H&Q with a limit order. Maybe I should sell half my shares if it hits 30. Why tempt fate? That's pretty darn good for a day's work. (This is work?)
1:45 p.m.: We're hovering around 22 and change. Daniel has long since sold. "Day trading" is a misnomer, since he rarely holds any stock longer than 10 minutes. He advises me to put a stop-loss on my shares. When I finally get through to H&Q they tell me I can't put a stop-loss on a stock that is trading over the counter. I don't ask for a translation.
2 p.m.: Still watching the ticker and getting real-time quotes from E-Trade every couple of minutes. Suddenly it dawns on me that declining stocks are printed in red on the TV screen and advancing stocks are in green. But what are white ones? This is a new language, a new culture. I feel as if I should have brought my passport.
2:30 p.m.: Still hovering around 22 or so. This is not very exciting. But I don't know what to do. Should I keep it? Should I sell? I can't decide so I go to the mailbox with my check for $14,000 to cover the stock purchase. Better do it now in case the price plunges. I couldn't bear to mail a check to cover a loss!
2:40 p.m.: Okay, so I've chickened out. LifeMinders seems to be inching downward, and another friend who knows I'm in IPO-mania today calls. Terry Grant is a stockbroker with "level two" access, whatever that is. He checks the minute-by-minute bid spreads (bedspreads?) and advises me to consider selling half my shares. I think he's right. Watching this thing all day is too stressful for me. The difference between stock trading and gambling is that you have to actually be sitting at the table to lose money in Vegas! Plus, this is a little boring, frankly. I'm a writer and a video producer. Stock trading is an intellectual challenge, but it isn't very creative.
3:05 p.m.: My sell order is executed--500 shares at 21 7/8. So we'll get back about $11,000 from half of our $14,000 initial investment. I think we'll hold the other 500 shares for a while just for fun. Terry points out that LifeMinders.com would have to drop to less than $6 a share before we'd start to lose any money on our investment. That's not likely to happen. I hope.
3:15 p.m.: I feel relief. I've learned a lot and have made a down payment on my new kitchen. But I think I'll keep my day job.
LifeMinders.com closed trading Friday at $16.
Projansky is a freelance writer.