I’ve been involved in the financial information business a very long time. I guess if I were to put a start date on it, that would be early in 1990, when I was hired as the Vice President of Technology at a place called TriStar Market Data (for those interested in that phase of my life, I did a long post about it here).
When I started my company, Prophet, in 1992 (which itself has a full-blown documentary you can watch here) there was, of course, competition. The big boys in the data world were Dial/Data and CSI. And the biggest boy in the world of charting was an outfit called BigCharts, which was far and away the most popular charting platform on the web. A typical chart looked like this:
Now, the bigcharts.com site didn’t exactly cut a swath through unchartered technological innovation. The charts were very simple. I mean, hell, they didn’t even present with a log scale by default. The charts were as basic as could be, and I was always puzzled at their popularity. Really the biggest thing BigCharts had going for them was a great URL and reliable servers. Indeed, when Prophet was literally a one-person company, I came THIS close to licensing my very simple charts to a small brokerage called E*Trade, but I got beat by BigCharts, simply because they had server redundancy (a term I didn’t even know at the time).
Well, as the years went on, BigCharts just got increasingly popular, and as the Internet bubble was reaching its crescendo, this really-crappy-chart company got bought for $166,000,000. Good God Almighty. I’m not privy to their financials, but I figure their annual revenue must have been, oh, I dunno, maybe a million bucks, if that. Naturally, I was green with envy.
The acquiring company, MarketWatch, was insanely valued as well (which made such a transaction possible, of course). MKTW, as the ticker symbol was at the time, sported a valuation of a billion bucks, even though they actually weren’t much bigger than Prophet. (And remember, this was back in the days when a billion was a lot of money!)
Well, you know how this all wound up. MKTW went into a death spiral, just like almost every Internet public company, and eventually they were bought for scrap. During their plunge, they actually had the temerity to offer to buy Prophet for $1 million, and obviously I said no. I was actually offended they would offer to buy my vastly-superior product for about half a percent what they paid for the completely horrible BigCharts junk.
I actually hadn’t thought of BigCharts in years and years, so I decided to see if their URL even still worked. Yep, it sure did! And after the gargantuan purchase price, and nearly a quarter century of time since it took place, what were their charts like now? Did you put on goggles and view them on a virtual holodeck? Did they project future prices with pinpoint accuracy? Just how incredible might these things be after all these years?
Here’s your answer:
It’s the same goddamned thing. And there’s only one possible coda for this entire story, in the form of a comic bit, although the allegory is absolutely spot-on: