September 11th

Sept 11th 2010 morning It's a clear blue sky this morning in lower manhattan.

Seems like most of the September 11ths we've had over the past nine years were just like today and just like the one in 2001 that will leave this date in infmany for centuries to come.

I turned 40 that year, a few weeks before the day the towers came down. I was dealing with the aftermath of the bursting of the Internet bubble, I had a portfolio full of red ink and mismanagement. That morning I was at a board meeting of a high flyer that had come crashing down. We had replaced management too late and we did not save that company.

That was a horrible day. But thinking back to that day and that time in my life reminds me of a great story that Dave Pinsen told in the comments my post last saturday. Here's the part that struck a chord in me:

Even in the midst of Apocalypse, things will get better.

That’s something people don’t quite seem to understand. In fact, it’s why teenagers tragically kill themselves over some girl or boy: They don’t realize that, no matter how bad things are now, they will get better later. To repeat:

Even in the midst of Apocalypse, things will get better.

I’m not repeating this insight as an empty comfort to my readers—I’m saying it as a trading strategy. When things are at their crazy worst, when everyone believes the Apocalypse is well nigh here, that’s when thing are about to turn for the better. 

Things have gotten better. The families who lost loved ones that day have for the most part moved on with their lives. Kids who lost a parent that day have graduated from high school, gone on to college, and will go on to live fulfilling lives. They will, of course, never forget their loss and will suffer that pain for the rest of their lives. But for most who suffered losses that day, the pain has not been paralyzing. They have moved forward.

NYC has gotten better. Downtown NYC has not been as vibrant in many years. The hole in the ground is finally getting filled. New York City is a resilient place and the future is very bright for this city.

The terrorists who planned and executed that hateful act have been under attack ever since. Many have been killed or captured. The world is probably not any safer today than it was that day but we are now on notice that such a horrible thing can happen anywhere in the world and we are more vigilant about making sure it doesn't happen than we were before that day.

The company whose offices I was at that morning went under not much later. And our portfolio hit rock bottom not much later. That portfolio has gone on to deliver another $500mm of gains to our investors in the past nine years and we still have four portfolio companies who can generate additional gains.

I did not conciously write two posts in the past week about "blood in the streets" but I did. This is the third and final post on that topic. There is no blood in the streets in my world right now but the experiences I had a decade ago have left a permanent mark on me. I know that bad things can and will happen. And I also know that what does not kill you makes you stronger.

That's all I've got this morning. I'm going to go sit outside and enjoy the beautiful day.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. DonRyan

    Devastating situations either paralyze or inspire. How they are dealt with separate the great ones.

  2. William Mougayar

    To say that Sept 11 changed the world is an understatement. Everyone recalls exactly what they were doing the minute they first heard about it. Although as you said life resumed and even got better, we still haven’t nipped that thing called terrorism and extremism. We still have to go through a ridiculous amount of security checks at the airport, and the world as a whole is still full of potential bad surprises that can happen. The US is resilient and will continue to be, but the world still lives in a state of anxiety over the fact that bad things are still happening in other parts of the world which can have an effect on us here. We have learned to adapt of course, but is this state of vigilance permanent or temporary?

    1. Kk

      It did change the world! your country invaded Iraq and murdered 1.5 million people.It’s only a tragedy if it happens to white people isn’t it?

  3. Aj Osterkamp

    Nice post. Thank you.

  4. DmitriyCheron

    September 11th…

  5. Miriam Tuerk

    Fred, A very nice and reflective note on this reflective day.

  6. Bob Batcheler

    As awful as the events of nine years ago were, it is always useful to remember that things are rarely as bad as they seem at the moment, and what makes the difference between how bad things seem in any moment of crisis and tragedy, and how much better things can be later, is our response to that crisis. Enjoy the day, Fred, and thanks for taking the time to do this post before going out to enjoy it!Batch

  7. DarrenLehane

    Fred, very helpful post.Keep up the great work.

    1. fredwilson

      you have no idea how much this comment has helped mewhat goes around comes around

  8. gregorylent

    true in beograd and bagdhad and and and even for the 3000 people that died THIS MONTH in america on the highways

  9. Tom Labus

    Some how in our response 9/11, we legitimized a very marginal group and veered way off track. I hope with the passage of time we see this and get back to being the US.Our economic issues are tied to this day also and are wrapped in the horrible partisan nonsense that somehow has become the norm since then.

    1. RJ Johnston

      Marginal scared Ollie North plenty. Marginal bombed the trade center years prior, marginal blew a hole in one of our war ships, marginal beat the Russians with a bit of our assistance and marginal destroyed two large buildings, put a hole in the pentagon and crashed another plane.I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I choose to remember the acts and the perpetrators.Agreed, partisan nonsense if horrible right now, come November it should calm down for a few years, when one party controls all (either side) the other fights tooth and nail to even the playing field. As it should.

  10. m_johnson

    Thank you for this post. Well done.

  11. choerr

    This was very timely and helpful for me. Thanks!

  12. GlennKelman

    What a perfect essay. I think it was the perpetually gloomy thinker Camus who once said, “Happiness is inevitable, too.”

    1. awaldstein

      Camus…a gloomy optimist who imagined Sisyphus happy.

  13. Julien

    Hope is certainly what saves us. I wish though that it was easier to communicate so desperate people would not have to throw down planes against towers, burn books or stone others to earn a spot in their own valhalla.

    1. Rocky Agrawal

      Sadly, our media highlight these desperate people and stoke the flames, at least metaphorically, to chase ratings. Like the jerk in Florida. They make heroes out of the nutjobs and lunatics.It was so refreshing for me to see this story about two Muslims traveling the country to visit mosques for Ramadan:2 Muslims travel 13,000 miles across America, find an embracing nation…That’s the America that I know and love.

      1. Dave Pinsen

        That two Muslims found an embracing nation here doesn’t surprise me. Americans are, by and large, tolerant and welcoming. I would be surprised if Christians on a religious road trip received a similarly warm welcome in a majority Muslim country.Regarding the “jerk” in Florida, I am less troubled by him than by those in the Muslim world who threatened violence if he went ahead with his Koran burning. Political correctness prevents many from making this point, but that quickness to advocate violence in the face of the slightest insults is incompatible with living in a free society.

        1. Steven Kane

          100% agreei mean, if muslims riot around the world, should we hand over salman rushdie?

        2. Rocky Agrawal

          It doesn’t surprise me at all, either. The United States is a more tolerant nation than what gets highlighted on the news would have you believe.If someone wants to burn a Koran, that is fine within our culture and law. But I think the media do us all a disservice by giving people like that a platform and days of air time while largely ignoring the more tolerant attitudes of the rest of the population. (This story was a rare exception.)

        3. stevenwillmott

          Although I agree with you Dave, I still find it amazing that the media focus can so derail a day of remembrance to elevate a “jerk in Florida” to such prominence. I’m not sure anybody would have threatened much violence if it hadn’t been on CNN. It was also a bit unfortunate that everybody’s focus was “don’t do this because you’ll cause a backlash” rather than, “respectfully don’t do this because it’s offensive to millions of people around the planet” – and obviously many Americans.There’s a nice summary on the bbc site on how the escalation happened: (abridged no doubt). It’s impressive how quickly something with the right elements can seem to get from nothing to global news so quickly, at some point public figures are in a catch 22 on how to react – when logically they can’t be responsible for what every person on US soil might or might choose to say or do.[just to clarify – from a “detached” viewpoint I mean it’s stunning how a meme can dominate. From a personal point of view it’s very sad that it was even on the radar on what is indeed such an important day for reflection]

  14. LIAD

    the hope of a better tomorrow. the belief that out of darkness comes light.the trust that night will give birth to day.the faith that good ultimately triumphs evil.the knowledge that a new dawn will rise.From the ashes of ground zero to the ashes of Auschwitz and for millennia prior, humanity have clung and drawn strength from these fundamental beliefs.

  15. daryn

    Thank for you the moment of reflection.While I’ve read all of your annual posts, I think this is the first time I’ve really thought about your world leading up to 9/11 rather than the day itself: post-bubble burst, struggling portfolio companies, etc, and it reminds me how different all of our lives are at any given moment.I had just turned 25 a week earlier, the company I was working for at the time was acquired on September 1st, and I woke up at a nice hotel in Napa, after attending the wedding of my first high school friend to get married. Things were good.Like everyone, I think of my life pre and post 9/11. Of the horrible events of the day, and the painful times of the following months. I’ll never be able to fully comprehend what it was like to be in NYC that day, but I do agree that, for the most part, we’ve healed from that day, and most importantly, have continued to move forward. It’s hard not to spend today thinking about all of the sadness and losses of the day, but I’m glad we can all be optimistic about our future.

  16. Mark Essel

    the source of Dave’s comment: “from a guest post over at Zero Hedge recently, by Gonzolo Lira””Even in the midst of Apocalypse, things will get better.”It’s a powerful form of comfort I give to myself. No matter how frustrated or anxious I get about the future, with just a little perspective my difficulties vanish in comparison. I look on our world now and think in a thousand years if we’re smart and lucky enough to survive, no one will care about the little things that trouble me now or pretty much anything I do with my life. So I take in everything as positively as I can, for better or worse the entirety of my existence is just a tiny spec in the flow of time. Unfortunately that line doesn’t work too well on my wife Michelle, so it’s job hunting time for the next couple of hours ;)Prop’s to Dave, we finally got to meetup at a Cheeseburger summit last month and he’s been the sharpest business guy I’ve ever come across. Seeing his success is a powerful form of inspiration, he’s a trailblazer with an acute sense for practical value. Seeing Howard Lindzon praise Dave’s Portfolio Armor app was pretty damn cool.To everyone who’s a part of the AVC crew: It’s gorgeous fall weather here in the North East, hope you all enjoy the day!

    1. Dave Pinsen

      Thanks for the kind words, Mark, and for noting that the apocalypse story was a quote from Gonzalo Lira. I enjoyed meeting you recently too. It was interesting to learn that, like Fred, you come from an engineering background originally as well. You both have that in common with a lot of the smartest minds in business and technology.

    2. fredwilson

      yes, i should have been more clearbut dave is the one who contributed it to our community

      1. Mark Essel

        It’s all good. The folks who would care would have caught the source in the comments. You mentioned it was a shared story, that was true.Going through all your portfolio company listings now thanks to Gary Chou (I mentioned him on twitter earlier, Indeed is incredible). Your portfolio has plenty of openings. Gunning for a loose, somewhat crazy and brilliant team, Buglabs has a great position listing -> still another 50 or so to go through then seek Gary’s feedback based on my html5 friendly resume.

  17. Tereza

    One thing I remember even before it happened was how exceptionally beautiful the sky was that day.I watched the planes hit the towers from high up in the 11 Madison tower. The picture windows were like a big TV screen, and they were flanked by two real TV screens which were displaying a delay of what we saw with out own eyes.In that lobby there were about 150 of us. Some were screaming because they had a loved one inside.Life changed that day.But things do get better. Really amazing story from Dave. Thank you for re-blogging it.It’s so beautiful out today. Maybe one of the first days comparable.We remember.

  18. Caterina Fake

    I am reflective on September 11 every year too.It’s especially powerful to hear stories like this coming from someone like you who is so successful and seems to have been born on third base. Everyone goes through bad times. Thanks for this post.

    1. fredwilson

      i was certainly not born on third base caterinanick bilton’s interview of me earlier this year is a good read on that topichttp://bits.blogs.nytimes.c…

  19. Dave Pinsen

    Thanks for the mention Fred, but as Mark Essel notes elsewhere, that apocalypse story was by Gonzalo Lira (who was describing living through an economic collapse in Chile).

  20. Leonardo Aranda

    Nice post. Thanks.

  21. awaldstein

    Thnx Fred…Yes, things get better but it is really important to remember. For us New Yorkers, especially us downtowners, it is not possible to forget.But I’m in Santa Monica this morning, and in the movements from hotel, to Urth Cafe to Equinox and around, 911 could use some icons to reinvigorate the memory.I posted this photo and pushed it to my networks to help those far away not forget.

  22. George A.

    A Great read. so true.

  23. Prokofy

    I think you struck the right note with this post, Fred — for you and your tribe. Yet even so, your experience is not everybody’s, and perhaps there’s something about having a lot of money and even losing a lot of it makes you confident that you will always get it back, and provides the basis for your sense of anti-doom. But if you never have a lot of money to start with, and then some of it is taken, you don’t recover so easily.I walked around today to do errands and walked past a street fair and indeed, it felt like that beautiful sunny day 9 years ago. I still feel numbed by this tragedy. Our parish seemed to be particularly hard hit with firemen, a policewoman, and insurance adjusters taken. My son’s classmates lost their father. Every morning walking the kids to school I would see a black hearse at the church, and pass by stoops where people had put out the firemen’s boots. Everywhere, were those missing persons flyers…I wrote about this and my essay was selected to include in the federal archives for 9/11: lost one of my jobs in the building at 22 Cortland Street, a book that I was translating and that couldn’t come out when the publishing house was forced to move and cut back. Trivial compared to other people’s losses of their loved ones, but still, a big blow. At my other main job, I had to cut my salary in half as we lost donations, and important contracts related to travel and foreign visitors — there were no flights for months and some foreigners found it very hard to get visas and still do. Life was never the same after 9/11. It is a deep, traumatic wound for individuals and for our country. I don’t expect in the typical feel-good New Agey way that it will “heal” and “restore” in full; I expect there to be pain and a scar, and that’s ok.As it happens, I have one of the few window views in Manhattan right on to the quonset hut where the frozen remains of the unidentified 9/11 victims are held, slowly being identified over years in some cases. I say a prayer when I remember to. I look at the manifestation of our society, which, with all its ills, still values the individual enough to try to give some closure to a family by identifying remains for burial. And I think of the society that produced this violent and fanatical movement that would cause terrorists not just to fly into a building, but to turn the wings of the plane at the last minute so that more floors could be demolished, more people killed, and so that the building might topple. And I know which society I pick, without fake internationalism, without fake peace, with a recognition of what is evil, and that it must be diligently fought.

    1. fredwilson

      it is important to hear everyone’s story Prokofythank you for sharing yours

  24. Mat Evans

    wonderful post. Thank you.

  25. panterosa,

    Tonight the lights are shining from the footprint of the building, as they have done each anniversary of 9/11. I majored in Sculpture at RISD, and we saw a lot of bad sculpture, and tried desperately not to add to that. Marrying form to function is a tricky craft.This light installation is one of the most elegant and inspiring pieces I know of. I wait for it every year, I bought a place I can see it from. I find it so breathtaking that it looks forward and back, remembers sadness and strength. The two lights somehow manage a perfect dialogue of pair opposites. I am proud to have RISD grads be a part of those who made this. I am proud on this day to be an artist, for we translate inspiration, and to be a designer, for we make things which work and improve your life.I think this is very relative to your post today. The apocalypse actually reminds there is only one way out – up. Humans are on a continuum scale of optimists, but each of us in part somehow believes, and so works towards that. Life is periodicity and polarity. Again pair opposites.Those who curse the red light they arrive at when in a hurry miss the benefit of having less time to wait before it turns green. It is all a question of perspective.

    1. fredwilson

      we saw the lights last nighti agree that it is a great memorial

  26. ShanaC

    you know, there is a finally a generation being born who won’t remember

    1. awaldstein

      Shana…not really acceptable.It’s our job to teach our children…no?Same with other atrocities that can’t be overlooked over time.

      1. ShanaC

        Not disagreeing- but it will be abstract, a part of history, not a memory. My mom remembers the Kennedy Assisnation. I know it happened, it was a great tragedy, and I don’t remember it.I was just thinking aloud, there will be an entire generation that won’t remember it as an event, being born now, and that’s wow. Things do change- we still have children and bring them up.

        1. awaldstein

          Really well said Shana..but I’m torn about this.I hesitate to raise this subject but the holocaust although it proceeded me haunts me like a memory. I’m hopeful that with the 911 memorial (and the power of social networks to reify communications) this ‘historical event’ can be catapulted into the ‘collective’ memory of oncoming generations. I believe it is that important.

          1. ShanaC

            That’s the thing, I want the “right” memory of collective experience. If you go on march (or at least my march trip) there can be a ton of revisionism (umm dancing in front of a reform synagogue without discussing the demographics of Jewish people in Cracow???)That’s a future I want to avoid, a future where the memory is created as much by events afterward and the politics and needs of those people rather than the moment of. I have no idea how to explain this to little kids, just being born though, this problem

          2. Douglas Crets

            What you are saying is interesting, but I don’t see how history has everbeen anything but a collective re-telling of a narrative influenced byevents that happened after that event. The people who created history arenot the same people who tell that history. This is one of the crucial thingsabout textbooks, for instance. Other people decide what is right and thatdecision is totally made within the context of the current atmosphere.

          3. awaldstein

            Well said Douglas

          4. awaldstein

            Interesting discussion…no conversation ending statement Shana.We all stumble forward and that is a win in itself.

  27. Colin Pape

    Different, yes. Better, I’m not sure.Time heals all wounds, and while the stinging may not be as sharp, have things have truly improved?- The economy is still fundamentally screwed- The Patriot act has removed many constitutional rights- The left/right paradigm is as strong as ever- There are still thousands of troops in Iraq/Afghanistan, and no fundamental improvement in foreign relations- There has still never been an open inquiry into the events of that day- I don’t think too many people could honestly say that the likelihood of something similar happening again is lower – ex. not sure that people feel more secureThere have certainly been some bright spots:- The internet as a whole – broadband, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and UGC in particular make us feel more connected- Apple products are pretty incredible- We haven’t had any 9/11 scale event repeats- The inarticulate Bush is no longer in powerSo I guess that because things aren’t as bad as they’ve been in the past 9 years, it does make them relatively better, but I still don’t think we’ve returned to a pre-9/11 level in many respects.And if you were to take away the gains of the internet and Apple, I think the post-9/11 world would be viewed a lot less positively.There’s still so much we can do to improve – we’ve definitely got a lot of upside potential to realize and lots of work to be done. Through this work is how I feel we best honor those who perished or had their livelihoods stolen 9 years ago today.It’s true that what does not kill us makes us stronger, and sometimes we need a period of negative polarization to bring out the best in us and strengthen our resolve to build a better future.That, I believe is where we have seen the biggest gains.

  28. Douglas Crets

    I say it to myself this way, as a mantra to keep me focused: build, build, build.One day I will die. I don’t care how it happens. I just want to know that when I was alive, I helped others, I worked hard, and I built. I want to leave something.Thanks for posting this. Let’s keep moving.

  29. plsgetbetter

    I sure hope you’re right about things getting better. I’ve lost my job, my friends and the pain is nearly unbearable. I keep hoping tomorrow will be better.

    1. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

      I can’t like this because I don’t like that you are struggling. I hear you. I have had a few “pivots” in the last decade. Though the next thing I say may seem harsh it is not meant to be. I wish someone had kicked my ass with it 8 months ago. Hope is not a strategy. I got one, and I can help you get one. msksboyd(at)thinkexperience(com). Email me your work experience and let’s schedule something.

  30. Soulless

    A million Iraqis are dead. We demolished a country and pulverized population that had nothing to do with 9/11. But it sure made us feel good, didn’t it?No one mentioned this on CNN, FOX, ABC, MSNBC. How do they live with themselves?

  31. Srečko Zajec

    Cool story.

  32. Srečko Zajec

    Cool blog!

  33. kagilandam

    Moving post Fred.Memory … it is a curse and boon to human kind. “Things will get better and this moment will also get past us…but the memories won’t”.

  34. blank certificate

    Past is Past………Moving forward…….But MEMORY……………It is a part of human life………..We live in this planet for the “RAY OF HOPE”..Thanks for Sharing this…………..

  35. Mike Greczyn

    I’m late to this party, but what the heck. 9/11/01 saw me with a bunch of my fellow airmen in a mission crew simulator at the 552nd air control wing at tinker air force base in Oklahoma city. It was “checkride” day, and we would all be judged on our ability to employ the E3 sentry AWACS platform in combat. We all hoped the day would be successful and would see us deemed CMR (combat mission ready) and handed off to our various operational squadrons. Sometime near the beginning of the scenario, a Boeing contractor stuck his head in and announced that an aircraft had struck the pentagon. We had no idea what was going on, so we shrugged it off and pressed on. A few minutes later, the sim was shut down. We were informed of the attacks and told that the remainder of mission qualification training was cancelled and we were to report to our squadrons and await orders. Exactly 1 year later I was 30,000 feet over Afghanistan, using a fraction of my $300 million aircraft’s capabities to manage an air campaign that largely involved burning vast quantities of JP8. This year, I’m a civilian with an MBA standing between the present day and my last mission. My flight gear long ago stuffed in a foot locker in the basement, I spent 9/11 with my wife and newborn daughter.

  36. awaldstein

    Thanks for sharing this Charlie…I have a few friends who decided to move ‘home’ or to other places post 911.It’s took me 7 years, but after a half time in NY half in Cal, 911 drove me the opposite way and finally pushed me to move permanently downtown.Really appreciate your comment.

  37. Dave Pinsen

    I knew a few folks who moved after 9/11, or at least stopped working in Manhattan. One was a former client who worked in WTC (actually, the last time I went to the WTC was on a visit to her office in June of ’01. I still have the laminated ID card the WTC used go give to visitors).This woman got out of the PATH train just as the first plane hit, and she immediately headed uptown to get to another PATH train to head home. Her husband saw the tower she worked in fall and thought she was dead, not knowing that she never went into the office that day. As it happened, I think, no one in her company died (they were on the 33rd floor of one of the towers).Her company moved its office to Midtown after 9/11, but she quit rather than keep working in Manhattan. She was too spooked.