First of four articles
There were times, when it was all going right, when Michael
Saylor would stare out the huge oval windows of his leased
Gulfstream jet and fixate on the Rocky Mountains passing below him.
He would marvel at how he was covering more territory in five
minutes than the western settlers covered by wagon over several
This was back in 2000, at the height of the Internet age. In a
few Nasdaq months, Saylor's newly public firm, MicroStrategy Inc.,
had gained a stock value that exceeded the total worth of his former
employer, the venerable DuPont Co.,198 years old. In a few Nasdaq
seconds, Saylor could amass more wealth than his father had in his
30-year Air Force career.
It didn't matter that MicroStrategy was just a software maker
that helped companies manage their inventory and customer
information. Saylor had what he called "the dot-com halo," the aura
that came with being not just a business, but a revolutionary one.
He become an icon to his "constituencies," as he called them -- the
media, Wall Street, his employees. He wasn't building a firm as much
as a belief system.
"We're purging ignorance from the planet," Saylor often declared
in his high, throaty voice. He was on a "crusade for intelligence,"
one that sounded just grandiose enough to be plausible at a time
when technology chief executives stirred such exuberance, rational
On Feb. 4, 2000, with MicroStrategy's shares at $142 and his
paper wealth shooting into the billions, Saylor hosted a 35th
birthday party for himself at Cities, the fashionable Adams Morgan
restaurant. "Guess who's old enough to run for president?" the
invitation said, and Saylor duly announced his candidacy that night,
a would-be standard bearer for "The Technology Party." He was
kidding. Or seemed to be. But at the time it seemed weirdly
Then, just a few weeks later, it all crashed -- a flip of
fortunes that was sudden even by the exaggerated norms of the late
1990s and the early part of 2000. Saylor's life and companybecame
object lessons in how ephemeral success could be in the new economy,
how perspective could be so easily lost, and how myths -- and stock
fortunes -- could so easily vanish. When MicroStrategy's story began
to unravel, at least some industry and Wall Street watchers believe,
it signaled the end of that era. "This one popped the bubble," wrote
James Cramer, columnist for TheStreet.com. "MicroStrategy forever
changed the Internet mania."
In a starkly compressed time frame, Saylor was transformed from a
new world titan to an age-old parable: "It's the same story in a way
of a classic Greek tragedy," said Don Griffith, a former Securities
and Exchange Commission lawyer who grew up with Saylor in the Dayton
suburb of Fairborn, Ohio. "It's the story of Icarus and Daedalus.
Mike was the guy who flew too close to the sun."
Saylor grew up wanting to be an Air Force fighter pilot, attended
MIT on an ROTC scholarship and entered business after a heart murmur
grounded him. He often applied flying metaphors to his corporate
rise. He spoke of how the "juice" of high-speed business can either
"skyrocket" an entrepreneur or "blow him up." He also did some of
his best thinking in the back of the Gulfstream, the night sky
heightening his solitude. These were mostly peaceful meditations.
But not the one on the flight that Saylor remembers best.
Late on Friday night, March 17, 2000, Saylor was flying to
Washington from San Francisco. It was a few days before
MicroStrategy was scheduled to sell newly issued stock to the
public, which would help the company pay for its CEO's manic
expansion plans. The sale was expected to raise $2 billion -- the
largest public offering in software industry history.
Saylor was returning from a "roadshow," the ritual that comes
before a stock issue in which executives promote their companies to
big investors and fund managers around the country. By every
appearance, Saylor's meetings were going well, and shares of
MicroStrategy finished the week at $226.75. "I'm at the top of the
world, everybody loves me," recalled Saylor, who was then the
wealthiest person in the Washington area, at least on paper.
"Everybody loves the company, we're hitting the cover of every
magazine. . . . I was household."
But Saylor knew that he had a secret. A week earlier,
MicroStrategy's financial auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, had
called into question some of the company's accounting records. The
accountants wanted MicroStrategy to restate some of its financial
reports, a potentially devastating step that could send Wall Street
into a selling panic. Negotiations had raged all week between
officials of MicroStrategy and PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine
the need for, or magnitude of, a restatement. Meanwhile, Saylor
continued to pitch his company to eager investors in Chicago, Kansas
City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
When the roadshow ended, Saylor flew home, sullen and alone on a
beige leather sofa in the back of the $40 million jet. "I know the
gods have this wicked sense of humor because of what they did to
me," Saylor said later. "They put me in a position where I was
simultaneously the most successful person of my generation and in
hell. All at the same time."
Like the company he still leads, Saylor seems diminished and
weary by what he calls "my ordeal." In the same way that presidents,
in their photographs, look as though they've aged eight years for
every four they've been in the White House, Saylor, now 36, seems to
have aged about six since his 35th birthday. His boyish flop of
brown hair has gone half gray. His fresh round face has become jowly
and bearded. His chest-out walk, once the stomping gait of a man who
knew exactly where he wanted to go, has acquired an uncertain
In a series of interviews between May and January, Saylor seemed
at once humbled by his experience and bitter. At times, he drew
comparisons between himself and victims of diseases or violent
crimes. "I don't think that the trauma or stress I felt is any worse
than the stress that a father feels when his son has leukemia,"
Saylor said last summer, describing his feelings during his
company's sudden fall. "Or whose wife is dying. I think it's the
same . . . in my case, it was my company catching leukemia."
Saylor always fancied his mission to be a seminal one. His role
models were Caesar, Churchill, Gandhi and Gates. He decorated his
basement with framed press clippings about himself. He kept a
sculpture of Rodin's "The Thinker" in his office and he had a
searing need to believe that MicroStrategy was doing work for the
ages. And, for a while, his constituencies needed to believe in him
as well -- in all his possibility, in all the new economic rules
that his success seemed to prove.
As it turned out, Saylor earned his place in history through the
narrative of his rise and swoon. This series of articles
reconstructs that story. It is based on interviews with Saylor and
more than 100 people who have known, watched or worked with him. It
is also based on court documents, company memos and internal e-mails
that were provided to, or summarized for, The Washington Post by
officials at MicroStrategy and sources involved in private lawsuits
and an SEC investigation of the company.
What emerges is a vivid dispatch from one of the most perplexing
and tumultuous periods in economic history. It also provides one of
the great, and largely unseen, corporate dramas in the evolution of
the Washington area as a major technology center.
At the story's hyperkinetic center is Michael Saylor, who became
the exemplar of two eras, boom and bust, in their greatest extremes.
And it all happened in a matter of days.
"I guess," Saylor said, smiling at the thought, "that I represent
a strange piece of history."
'Hit the Floor Running'
The thinking went like this: If Thomas Edison were to write a
book about his life and legacy, it would be called "Electricity." So
Michael Saylor believed that he should write a treatise of his own,
His pursuit -- to make the species up-to-the-second smarter --
was so elemental to civilization that it needed to be distilled in a
book, one of those really big books, maybe more than a thousand
pages. Not for vanity's sake, but for history's.
On Jan. 31, 2000, before a meet-and-greet with former Treasury
secretary Robert Rubin, Saylor met with the literary agent Amanda
"Binky" Urban in Midtown Manhattan to discuss "Intelligence." She
was intrigued by the idea, and they agreed to keep in touch.
People throughout Saylor's life describe him as the smartest
person they have ever met. "Usually you find a guy with [Saylor's]
intellect in the back of some lab, interacting with rats," said Joe
Robert, a Washington area real estate maven who befriended Saylor
during his rise. But Saylor was no outcast, Robert said. He could
converse on diverse topics and with multiple audiences: He could
quote from Augustus and "Caddyshack" alike, talk circuitry with
engineers, numbers with financiers, Big Vision with investors and
bachelorhood with the media.
He loved music, played the tenor sax and trombone as a teenager,
and would later teach himself guitar and piano. He was valedictorian
at Park Hill High School in Fairborn, where he lived from age 11
with his parents, brother and sister in a small aluminum-sided
duplex on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He was raised in a taut,
Southern Baptist household, steeped in chore regimens and vice-free
conservatism -- no cussing, smoking, drinking. "Hit the floor
running, son," Chief Master Sgt. Jerry Saylor would yell into his
son's bedroom, after waking him at 6 a.m. with a loud clap. The
$50,000 ROTC scholarship Saylor earned from MIT was worth five times
the amount of his family's entire savings at that time.
John Sterman, a marketing professor at MIT, said Saylor was
"always an unusual fellow, far more serious than most at MIT. . . .
a student you wouldn't forget." For a class project, Saylor built a
computer-simulation model that applied the ideas of Plato's
"Republic" to an ideal civilization. To meet his undergraduate
thesis requirement, Saylor, inspired by Machiavelli's "Discourses,"
wrote a computer program that simulated the reactions of varied
government systems to calamities such as famines, plagues and war.
He graduated with highest honors, earning a degree in aeronautics
and astronautics, as well as one in science, technology and
Saylor started MicroStrategy in 1989 with Sanju Bansal, his MIT
roommate and fraternity brother. Saylor had spent two years writing
computer models for DuPont's titanium dioxide business, but wanted
to start his own business. He persuaded his boss to give him a
$250,000 consulting contract to continue building computer models.
The deal came with office space near DuPont's headquarters in
In 1992 MicroStrategy developed an early version of the product
that would become its franchise: software that allowed companies to
extract useful bits of information from their unwieldy corporate
databases. By using the software, for instance, McDonald's could
learn that a Chicago franchise was four times more likely to sell
Big Macs on winter Friday nights than was a franchise in Miami
(where customers disproportionately preferred filet-of-fish
sandwiches). While seemingly trivial, such data would prove vital to
the companies, and even as other software companies were developing
similar "data-mining" products, as they were called, Saylor and
Bansal were able to impress and attract an early array of Fortune
In 1994 Saylor and Bansal moved the company and its 50 employees
from Wilmington to Tysons Corner, figuring it would be easier to
lure elite workers to the Washington area, "a major center of
civilization," Saylor said. MicroStrategy doubled its revenue every
year between 1994 and 1997.
Part of Saylor's marketing savvy in the late 1990s sprang from
his unwillingness to stay confined to the niche of back-office
technology. No matter how solid MicroStrategy's business and product
was, Saylor felt restless. What Saylor craved -- and ultimately sold
-- was a higher corporate purpose for MicroStrategy: He wasn't so
much making tools as much as he was "freeing information." He wasn't
a seller of data-mining software but a purveyor of "intelligence,"
just as Bill Gates's mission at Microsoft wasn't simply to sell
software for personal computers but to put "a computer on every
In computing history, which Saylor studied closely, the dominant
companies have been the ones that could shroud the unsexy
functionality of their products in the sleek possibility of What
Could Come Next. As Internet, database and wireless technologies
evolved, Saylor said, information would soon become an essential
utility, "like water," and MicroStrategy would be the company that
spread it everywhere. Enlightening McDonald's about its Big Mac
sales was just a start of a grand technological crusade that would
eventually "purge ignorance from the planet."
By the time MicroStrategy held its initial public offering of
stock in 1998, Saylor was gaining little notice for his data-mining
products and plenty for his vow to spread "information everywhere."
He began to pitch his company's software products in mystical
rhetoric. The back cover of MicroStrategy's prospectus -- published
in conjunction with the IPO -- included a boldface quotation from
science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced
technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Shares were priced at $6 for the June 11 offering (adjusted for a
Jan. 4, 2000, stock split), and they doubled by midday. On the
Merrill Lynch trading floor that morning, Saylor grinned as he noted
that "MSTR," MicroStrategy's ticker symbol, was listed on the Nasdaq
ticker right after "MSFT" (Microsoft), a company that Saylor
"Warning," a message flashed over the trading floor. "Do not
confuse MSTR with MSFT."
The Grand and the Grandiose
On the surface, MicroStrategy seemed the prototype of the
democratic new-economy workplace: Employees could wear jeans to work
and were always free to e-mail the CEO with ideas. But these
egalitarian appearances belied the company's military ethos, with
Saylor as a ubiquitous general in a theater of his own creation. To
a degree that is unusual among even the most obsessive
entrepreneurs, MicroStrategy has been Saylor's life. He worked late
into most nights, often seven days a week.
Saylor fervidly protected his ownership stake in the firm, and
this insistence almost led to the company's demise before it left
Wilmington. In 1994, the firm's senior managers -- Sid Banerjee,
Dave Sherwood, Steve Trundell, Eduardo Sanchez, Ed Jurcisin and
Manish Acharya -- were working long hours and receiving relatively
low salaries. When they asked for an equity stake, Saylor and Bansal
resisted until the managers finally walked out en masse on a Friday.
By Monday, the group had retained a lawyer. Negotiations ensued, and
the dispute was settled when Saylor and Bansal agreed to grant the
managers a collective 7 percent of the young firm.
Saylor was even more hesitant to give any ownership stake to
outside investors, particularly venture capitalists, a species he
publicly loathed and distrusted. He feared that venture capitalists
-- or other big investors -- would "dilute the vision" of his
company. At the time of the IPO, Saylor retained a remarkable 73.1
percent, or 22.5 million, of the company's shares (Bansal held
another 12 percent). This effectively allowed Saylor to do as he
pleased with his firm, unconcerned by any possibility of ever being
overruled, taken over or forced out by other investors.
Saylor's childhood bred in him a strong sense of insularity and
control. "I'm very at home in paternalistic environments," Saylor
said. Each winter, he took his employees on a Caribbean cruise (no
spouses allowed) to promote corporate solidarity. New workers
underwent a rigorous "boot camp" where they were drilled on the
arcana of MicroStrategy's business and required to complete an
outdoor ropes course. Saylor's top lieutenants comprised a brainy
fraternity of longtime male pals, several of whom had attended MIT
together. Executives who came from other companies often had brief
and unpleasant experiences at MicroStrategy.
Saylor was prone to volcanic impatience. "Are you trying to kill
us?" Saylor would boom in meetings, or invoke a well-known Gatesism,
"That's the stupidest [expletive] thing I've ever heard." If a
person was talking too slowly, Saylor would often take out his Dell
laptop and start doing other work. His longtime associates viewed
him with a mix of awe and dread: They marveled at his zooming
technology mind and also spent a lot of time anticipating what might
preoccupy or set him off next. One executive compared the dynamic of
MicroStrategy's executive team to "alcoholics around a dinner
When he was not speaking, Saylor's eyes would assume a sunken
deadness. He spoke in a robotic cadence, as if delivering social
graces -- "Nice to see you again" -- by dint of some how-to program
embedded in his skull. He would sometimes talk with such energy that
his face twitched. He habitually slammed doors, even when he was not
upset. Even his closest friends say Saylor can often be long-winded,
tiresome and just odd.
But Saylor could also be inspiring, generous and loyal. He rarely
fired people. "You had to really underperform at MicroStrategy to
get fired," said Manish Acharya, who left the firm in early 1999. He
recalls firing someone with Saylor -- and how Saylor spoke of being
"traumatized" for days afterward.
Saylor's loyalty was returned: MicroStrategy's turnover rate --
about 7 percent in 1997 and 1998 -- was low among software
companies. With only moderate irony, employees would dub themselves
members of the "cult of MicroStrategy," and Saylor was their
charismatic leader. A television monitor in the lobby played a
constant loop of Saylor's speeches.
If they bought into his mission, Saylor told prospective
employees at the end of their boot camp sessions, they could help
him "bend reality through sheer force of will." Saylor's boot-camp
sermons lasted hours, sometimes up to nine. "Heaven for me is a
microphone and a captive audience," Saylor said, and he relished the
gamesmanship of sales and motivational talks, "that
deer-in-the-headlights moment when you know you've flipped someone,"
he said in 1998.
"I've never seen someone who could transfix a room like Mike
Saylor," said Mark Bisnow, who was an aide to Rep. John Anderson and
Sen. Robert J. Dole, and whom Saylor hired in April 1998 to be his
personal publicist, or, officially, his chief of staff. Bisnow's
mission was, in Saylor's words, to "put me in front of the right
people" -- Binky Urban and Robert Rubin, among them. Bisnow ran
Saylor's public life as a permanent branding campaign, which seemed
about perfect to Saylor.
"I'm a political leader," Saylor declared to Washingtonian's
Harry Jaffe in early 2000. "I have a nation. I have constituents. I
have investors." Bisnow worked tirelessly on his behalf, calling
anyone, anywhere, who might be worth Saylor's seduction. Saylor
eventually started calling Bisnow his "secretary of state."
Others called him worse. Several MicroStrategy executives and
board members complained -- usually privately -- that Bisnow had
become an unchecked agent of Saylor's ego. One Washington technology
chief called Bisnow "Michael's crack dealer," feeding Saylor's
addiction to attention.
"If he ever had any impulse of restraint, Bisnow would push him
back in the other direction," said a longtime MicroStrategy
executive who left the company in 2000. Profiles of Saylor included
his soliloquies on his ideal wife and the detail that he had a
butler, Brian. It was said that Saylor looked like Tom Cruise and
dated Queen Noor, King Hussein's widow (whom he says he has never
"I was delighted to help the world discover Mike Saylor,"
recalled Bisnow, who left the company last year. The people who
criticized Bisnow at MicroStrategy "complained all the way to the
bank," he said.
In late 1999 and early 2000, a recurring source of Saylor's
fascination -- and, in turn, the media's -- was his plan to build a
"Versailles" on 48 acres in Great Falls. He issued a 100-page
request for proposals from architects and sent memos to his public
relations staff that outlined some basic features he envisioned for
his compound -- rooftop conservatory, nine-hole golf course,
Japanese gardens. He referred to the compound as "my 21st-century
villa," though Bisnow cautioned him that the term "villa" connoted
the Italian leisure class, not the intellectual renaissance he was
"Mike let himself become this image that kept feeding on itself,"
said his friend, America Online co-founder Jim Kimsey. "After a
while it's drinking your own bathwater. After a while it became
'Hey, Mike, You're Rich'
Saylor had lived a sheltered life: He spent his teenage nights
eating ice cream at Friendly's and lifting weights in his garage
with his best friends, Griffith and Tom Spahr, who would later join
him at MicroStrategy. They played board games and dabbled in
Dungeons and Dragons. "Mike was always the Dungeonmaster," Spahr
recalled, referring to the player who controls the game. "He liked
to create and control situations."
When Saylor arrived at MIT, he had never eaten Chinese food,
owned just one suit (beige polyester) and sported a frizzy thin
mustache. He confined his friendships mostly to his fraternity,
Theta Delta Chi, and had few girlfriends in college or afterward.
"Michael recently decided women are an incredible time sink," Bansal
told The Post in 1996.
Until recently, Saylor almost never drank. On the eve of his IPO,
aboard a Gulfstream II, MicroStrategy Chief Financial Officer Mark
Lynch offered Saylor a celebratory glass of Blue Ribbon Scotch from
a $160 bottle. Saylor declined, put the glass aside, took a few sips
of champagne and devoured two pink Hostess Sno Balls.
After a day of meetings in New York in January 2000, Saylor and
Bisnow went to the bar of the Four Seasons hotel only to find a
45-minute wait for a seat. They turned to leave when Bisnow said,
"Hey, Mike, you're rich, why don't we do what they do in the movies,
hand the maitre d' a big tip and see what happens?" Bisnow handed
the guy a $20 bill and the men were seated.
Around that time, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and his wife,
Teresa Heinz, invited Saylor to a private dinner at their Georgetown
home. Saylor was flattered that a U.S. senator would care to hear
his grand ideas, and when Bisnow mentioned that Kerry might also
care about his bank account, he seemed surprised. After the dinner,
Saylor was asked by a Kerry aide to host a fundraiser, which he did,
despite tending toward conservative views and being a lifelong
admirer of George Will.
Saylor was always impressed by wealth, not so much for what the
money could buy -- although that was enviable too -- but for the
power, credibility and status that came with it. "When you're worth
a certain amount, you get the attention of everyone in the room,"
Saylor said in 1998. In preparing for MicroStrategy's IPO that year,
Saylor offered to sell "friends and family" stock -- coveted shares
that are usually reserved for company insiders -- to a special class
of people he dubbed "influencers." These were the top executives at
about 200 nationally known firms, carefully selected by Bisnow.
About 5 percent of these "influencers" accepted the shares,
according to a source familiar with their apportionment.
As Saylor's celebrity and wealth grew, he gained entry into
increasingly rarefied Washington circles. He attended several of
President Bill Clinton's functions, often arranged by Democratic
fundraisers such as Beth Dozoretz. At one reception for Clinton at
the Georgetown home of financier Jonathan Silver, the president
called on him during a question-and-answer session and Saylor
launched into an extended talk about how technology made it possible
for every American to carry a panic button, a kind of wireless 911
device. With the proper resources, Saylor said, the government could
"significantly cut rape and violent crime." Clinton asked Saylor to
send him a memo on the subject, but he never heard back from the
The Wonder Boy of the Club
Most of Saylor's powerful new friends came from the burgeoning
club of Northern Virginia entrepreneurs said to be transforming
Greater Washington from a plodding government enclave into a hotbed
of new money and industry. The members included, among others, Joe
Robert and James Kimsey, financiers Mark Warner and Russ Ramsey, and
entrepreneurs Mario Morino and Jonathan Ledecky. Saylor sought out
their companionship and advice at black-tie functions and private
dinners. He recruited Ledecky to join the MicroStrategy board and,
later, John Sidgmore, the vice chairman of WorldCom. Saylor spoke of
the importance of being a good member of the community and of
surrounding himself with mentors.
In return, Saylor was embraced as the oddball wonder boy of the
local technology sector. "He was sort of adopted as a pet, a
curiosity," said one wealthy local entrepreneur, a friend of
Saylor's. In late 1999, Saylor joined Robert, Kimsey and others on a
Caribbean cruise on a 165-foot boat belonging to Hollywood
super-agent Mike Ovitz. One afternoon, after drinking tequila shots
the night before, Saylor went scuba diving and became sick, vomiting
his lunch and inciting a feeding frenzy by a swarm of tropical fish.
A few weeks later, Kimsey bought Saylor a bottle of fish food for
In time, Saylor became weary and suspicious of several of the
local multimillionaires who had become his friends. The more
successful he became, people at MicroStrategy recall, the more
Saylor would speak of how much smarter and more creative he was than
the other younger entrepreneurs he was often grouped with. He began
to tune out many of the "mentors" he had cultivated, confiding to at
least two friends that AOL co-founder Steve Case was the only person
in the Washington tech community whom he considered a peer. (Saylor
says that this might have characarized his views at various points
in the late 1990s, but that he has since become more humble and less
As MicroStrategy's share price catapulted ever higher, Saylor
became fixated by it, checking several times a day. He knew
precisely where the stock had to go for him to be a billionaire, or
10-billionaire. Saylor looked to investors not just for money but
for a kind of intellectual ratification. He believed in the stock
market's "qualitative ability" to anoint visionaries. "In the
marketplace, Nasdaq is the god," Saylor said.
On the days his stock fell, Saylor was more prone to piqueish
fits of micro-management. One day in December 1999, Joe Payne,
MicroStrategy's vice president of marketing, was flying out of
Dulles International Airport on a family vacation when he received a
call from Saylor on his cell phone. "You're causing corporate
death," Saylor said acidly and asked why a press release announcing
a new partnership agreement had not been issued. Payne explained
that the new partner was not ready to announce the agreement.
"Well," Saylor said, "it's causing corporate death. The stock is
down today. And the reason the stock is down today is because we
haven't gotten that press release out."
When the stock rose, Saylor was not good at the practiced
indifference that CEOs are supposed to evince, especially in front
of their employees. Instead, he would casually walk around the
office talking about how many paper millions he'd just made as he
There was an honest ebullience about him that was at once crass
and refreshing. On MicroStrategy's annual staff cruise in January
2000, shares rose 19 percent in a single day, and all 1,600
employees were in the Cayman Islands! "We should go on cruises more
often," joked Saylor, who made nearly a billion dollars that day,
the dot-com fantasy in a nutshell.
Except that Saylor despised the notion that MicroStrategy was
comparable to some dot-com-lately, like he was some newly minted MBA
starring in an online toy store. This, he felt, ignored his
company's 11-year track record, its profits, his huge vision. His
was not an "Internet company," he said, it was an "intelligence
"In defense of those who were appealing to Michael's egomania, he
was several cuts above the dot-commers," Bisnow said. "He had a very
solid business software company. And he had these incredible gifts.
He could have been someone very memorable, for reasons other than
why he ultimately will be."
Seizing a Halo
MicroStrategy could have continued as just a "very solid business
software company." But that would not have made Saylor memorable,
much less historic. So it became clear to Saylor that for the
recognition he felt he deserved, he had to be part of Wall Street's
love affair with the Internet. "We were second-class citizens here,"
Saylor recalled of MicroStrategy's status as a mere "software"
company. "And time was running out. We needed to get into that halo
This meant trumpeting how his company would thrive in the online
world, how Internet and wireless networks could spread freshly mined
information "everywhere." He launched a subsidiary, Strategy.com,
that delivered information not to businesses but directly to
consumers: weather updates, traffic reports, sports scores via
phone, Internet or wireless tools.
Of course it was just a start in the context of the larger dream
Saylor was peddling: One day soon, he promised, people would have
devices in their ears that would tell them how to avoid clogged
highways or incompetent heart surgeons or dangerous neighborhoods.
Such intelligence would circulate "everywhere," cleansing waste,
inefficiency and risk from our networked ecosystem. It sounded
slightly nutty, but when Saylor was preaching, it could sound oddly
On Jan. 27, 2000, MicroStrategy announced that its revenue for
1999 would be $205.3 million, nearly double the previous year's.
Saylor announced the company's 16th consecutive quarter of revenue
growth and a profit of $3.8 million. The new numbers solidified his
cachet as an Internet visionary who could actually make money. He
was profiled on "60 Minutes," in Time and Newsweek (headline:
"Caesar and Edison and . . . Saylor?"), and the framed press
clippings he hung in his basement began to trail up the staircase
and into the first floor of his house.
Shares of MicroStrategy jumped from $225 to $246 on March 7. The
price continued upward as Saylor, Mark Lynch and Nick Weir, the head
of Strategy.com, began their roadshow in Europe. Investors in
London, Geneva and Paris begged to buy the increasingly pricey
shares. The stock closed that Thursday, March 9, at $283.
On Friday, Saylor, Lynch and Weir flew back to Washington, with
plans to begin the U.S. leg of the roadshow on Monday. On the people
mover at Dulles, they checked messages and learned that shares of
MicroStrategy had jumped another 30 points. The stock closed that
day at $313 after hitting $333 in the early afternoon. Saylor had
made another $1.3 billion while he crossed the Atlantic. He was now
worth $13.6 billion.
"Do you ever get the feeling things are going just a little bit
too well?" Saylor said to Weir as Saylor stepped into his waiting
"Yes," Weir said, "and it scares the hell out of me."
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.
Next: Damage control.