So by this point, 25 years after investing in my college friend’s company, I was informed that his company was selected to ring the opening bell for the NASDAQ exchange and my wife and I were invited to participate. We found some tickets on Southwest Airlines, a hotel near Times Square that was somewhat less than the most expensive ones, and headed out early on a Sunday morning.
(This is part 8 of the story. To find part one, go here.)
Arriving in NYC
Our flight was ridiculously early in the morning – leaving at 7:30, so we were up at about 4:30 AM. We actually stayed the night with my in-laws, who were only about a half hour from the airport, but given that we drove to their place somewhat late the night before, we were going to lose sleep either way. Luckily the flight was uneventful and before I knew it we were looking out and seeing the buildings of Manhattan over the left wing.
We landed, walked for what seemed like a half of a mile from the baggage claim to the taxi stand, and headed into the city. I was hoping that we would go over one of the bridges and see the tall buildings of Manhattan looming over us, but we ended up taking the tunnel from Queens. We got to the hotel around 10:30 AM and left the bags, then we decided to head over to Times Square to find out where we needed to be the next day. Along the way, we stopped into an Irish pub near Broadway for lunch where I had a Guinness beer that cost me $10. No more alcohol out this trip at those prices!
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It was difficult at first to find the NASDAQ building, but we kept walking south and eventually found it on the East side of the street, right next to the Flat-Iron Building. This is the neat building on the South side of Times Square that is triangular in shape since it lies where two streets meet and then branch out diagonally from each other. The ground floor of the building is a Wal-Greens, which just seemed sort of an odd thing to have in such a historic and iconic building. When I had been in New York in high-school we had walked through this area many times. It was neat to now be coming back and seeing how different things looked thirty years later, not because they had changed, but because I had changed.
The NASDAQ is a 7-story building which has a tall, cylindrical display that is broken up periodically by windows. Wherever the windows are, the display is blank, creating a strange effect when trying to watch a video. (For the interesting history of the NASDAQ exchange, where trading went from individuals shouting to each other across a room to a computerized system, check out Nasdaq: A History of the Market That Changed the World). Once we had found the NASDAQ building, we walked around Times Square for a while and then did other site seeing, waiting for the time when we could check into our hotel. That afternoon we went to the Empire State Building and spent a couple of hours at the observation deck. We could almost see the Statue of Liberty when the clouds dispersed enough.
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Suddenly in a Spy Thriller
The next day, the day before the big bell-ringing ceremony, we were to go to a dinner that VirTra was holding. Because the dinner was not until 7:30 PM, we decided it would be a great day to go see the Statue of Liberty. It was also the first time that we tried Uber. Seeing that standard Uber-X was $23 for the trip from mid-town to downtown, we decided to do Uber Pool. Little did I know that this would throw us into an experience like something out of a spy novel.
“Proceed outside and to the 8th avenue. Driver arriving in 5 minutes,” the display on the phone read, along with a little map with a blinking line in the Uber App. We proceeded quickly into the street and over to the rendezvous spot. The app then asked us to message the driver with things like “Looking for you” and “Almost there.” We said we were there and the app said to look for a black Lincoln Towncar (of course – what else could it be?). Finally, we saw a black car pull up and we hurriedly climbed in, ready for our adventure.
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The driver was, of course, Pakistani, as he should be in any good spy thriller. Along the way, we picked up an Asian lady with a red umbrella and a few bags, who traveled with us for a few blocks before being dropped off. About 20 minutes later we were pulling up to the terminal to go to the Statue of Liberty.
Trapped on Ellis Island
The day at the statue was uneventful. Finally, around 3 PM we decided to go over to Ellis Island, as our tickets allowed. We arrived on Ellis Island, walked through the large halls for a little while, and then watched the film. After the film I said that we had better head back since it was already 4:30 PM, thinking that we would get back by about 5:30 PM, in plenty of time to get ready for dinner and then walk to the place by 7:30 PM. Little did I know that each ferry that would arrive from the Statue of Liberty, which happened about ever 15 minutes, would be full of people and that the people would not get off, it being so late in the day. We, therefore, waited in the huge crowd of people trying to get off Ellis Island, moving up a little each time a new boat came and then sailed away. Suddenly I felt like one of the early immigrants, waiting for my chance to leave Ellis Island and get to New York where my new life could begin.
Finally, we made it off of the island and back to the ferry terminal around 5:50. Unfortunately, the next Uber was not due to arrive until about 6:20. We again headed to the pickup location as prescribed, walking across a park, but could not seem to get the app to realize we were in place. Then, we saw another family get into a car near our spot (I still wonder if that was our car). Finally, we hailed a cab since we needed to get back to the hotel and change. We arrived back at the hotel around 6:40, changed in about twenty minutes, and then walked to the dinner club across Times Square with a little time to spare. It was miraculous.
That evening we ate with many of the key employees and directors from Virtra, as well as some other investors. This was the first time I had seen Bob in Person since we left school in 1994. We had both changed quite a bit.
We actually ended up seated with the other investors, either through happenstance or because the employees had all known each other and chose to sit together. One was a middle-aged gentleman who had started several companies, another was a young hedge-fund creator/manager, and still was an angel investor for Virtra who was one of the founders on the club in which we were eating that evening. Another gentleman at our table said that he felt he was an early investor in VirTra, but agreed that I had him beat, having bought the very first shares. He loved the story of how I bought them from Bob in his apartment in Tucson at 1 AM.
After dinner, my friend and the company CEO, Bob Ferris, got up and gave a touching speech about the success of the company and big day that was to come. It was an emotional speech. Several times he broke down a little as he remembered individuals who had played a big role in the company but were no longer with us. He then had individuals from the room come up and tell their favorite VirTra stories. Many got up and told stories from the old days of when it was just a few employees, working long hours to make trade shows and deliver products. Others told of how they were hired and immediately thrown into the fray as they rushed to get systems out. I told my story of the system Bob and his first employee made for the U of A Spring Fling carnival a couple of decades ago. I mentioned how crude the system was to laughs from the audience, and how Bob was always great at marketing, even in those days, and how that was part of the reason for the success of the company. If I had a chance to do it over again I would have also talked about how the technology had not caught up to Bob’s vision back in the late 1980’s. (This was in the Intel 486 days, before the Pentium chip.) Even today, I’m not sure that VR systems can do what he envisions.
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The Bell Ringing
The next morning, we woke up and got dressed up to go. I ate some bread we had bought from a French bakery, but my wife said she was too nervous. We walked over to the NASDAQ studio and waited outside for 8:30 AM to arrive so we could go in. Several of the other investors from the night before arrived a little later and we stood outside and took pictures. Finally, we went inside at about 8:20 to the green room.
The neat thing was that at 8:30, like a switch had been thrown, everything around us became about VirTra. The LED display in the green room displayed the VirTra logo and we took pictures, both with our phones and professionally. We then were given instructions on how things would proceed.
Me in the Green Room in front of the LED sign. This sign filled the
whole wall, about 20-feet long
We were divided into three groups and would be called up to the podium at different times in those groups. At 9:20, the broadcast would begin. Then, Bob would give a speech. Finally, around 9:27 we would be brought up in our groups. At 9:29, we were to cheer loudly and keep cheering until they told up to stop. At 9:30 Bob would press the button to ring the bell, a confetti cannon would go off, and then we would be done. After that, they would take pictures in the studio, then we’d proceed out onto Times Square for some outside pictures with the NASDAQ building.
We walked into the studio, and the quote for VirTra was displayed proudly at the top of the screen behind the podium, up there with Apple, Google, and other NASDAQ powerhouses. At 8:20, the broadcast started. The event went as planned with only some minor issues (no one seemed to be able to say “VirTra” correctly). We then filed up to the podium in our assigned groups, started to cheer, and kept going. The music started to build and continued to build right up to the open. A few seconds before the opening the screen above us showed us live on CNBC, the one behind us showed the broadcast on the NASDAQ building from Times Square.
8:30 came, the bell rang, and the confetti canon fired. We continued on until we were told we could stop. I was absolutely exhausted from cheering for so long. We then took some pictures and headed out the door onto Times Square. As we walked out the door, I noticed that the quote for VirTra on the board showed that the stock was down. That figures.
From inside the Studio before the Bell Ringing
On the square, the whole NASDAQ building was lit up with VirTra. A professional photographer took our picture in front of the NASDAQ building, then we turned around and watched the photos that were taken before inside showed up on the NASDAQ building screen. We laughed when the windows happened to be in just the right spot to cover a face, especially when both faces in a picture were covered. It was a little like seeing Mike in Monsters, Inc. being covered by the magazine label.
NASDAQ Building from Times Square, Showing Virtra Bell-Ringing
Then, as suddenly as everything became VirTra at 8:30, everything switched back and it was business as usual. We all shook hands and parted ways.
I say this is the end of the story, but hopefully not. I’m still holding onto about half of my original shares, along with others I’ve bought along the way when the stock was down. If the stock goes from where it currently is, around $5 per share, up to about $75 per share, and if I can stand to hold on that long, I will have made my goal of $1M on the stock. Hopefully, that won’t take another 25 years.
(You see the video of the bell ringing on the VirTra website here. That’s me in the back row with the grey suit and red time, third person from the left.)
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