When bad news hits, I prefer to wait a day before writing about it, unless telling the story is therapeutic. A company I’m invested in was hit by ripples from coronavirus. It wasn’t because an employee was infected. It was because quarantines in China closed factories, which killed supply lines, which severed supply chains. Just as MicroVision was expected to announce a major product that would make them profitable, their hopes were punctured by something out of their control. The stock was down over 50% after hours. The reason I’m writing this now, however, is because some people are physically shaking from the news. I’m not hurt as hard, but I’ve been there and know that words delayed can arrive too late. Hence, I write.
Pandemics sound academic. They rarely happen, thanks to the efforts of the medical profession. The health care system may have flaws, but that seems to be more on the accounting and insurance side. Emergency responders respond well. They and others keep contagious infections contained. There’s an atmosphere of constant vigilance because they know that if something significant happens, it isn’t going to wait for hearings and meetings. That’s why coronavirus is a threat; it isn’t that it is deadlier than usual, it is because it seems to be highly contagious, spreads rapidly, and yes, is more than deadly enough. Hence, China’s quarantines and factory closures. (Personal Pandemic Prep)
My original MVIS shares are twenty years old. If they were human they could vote, serve, and be told it was time to move out and get a job. MicroVision has worked on a technology that has the ability to revolutionize display technologies. Shine light on an oscillating mirror, and either display or capture an image. Build it onto a chip and use micro-electronics for the lights, and a projector shrinks to nearly the size of the camera in your phone, and sensors can fit into almost any electronic device. So what? Imagine how much of a shift it was to get rid of the cathode ray tubes that powered televisions and early computers. They were big, fragile, somewhat radioactive, and wasted a lot of energy. Think back as screens got thinner, flatter, and sturdier to the point that they can survive pockets and purses (mostly). They aren’t radioactive, but they use rare materials from exploited regions, and quickly become hazardous waste. MicroVision’s displays have no radioactive tube, no glass, no screen, and use incredibly little power. It is easy to imagine why investors could be so eager to buy into a small, inexpensive company that could radically reform the technical world.
But, it never seemed to happen. Skip the ‘seemed’. It didn’t happen.
At this point it is easy to dive into a critique of two decades of management. While none of the CEOs succeeded (and today’s news kicked out the most recent one and introduced a new one), they were all well-paid. Millions of dollars went to managers who never produced a profit despite incredible technology and potential. I might delve into that managerial review another day.
Today I want to reach out to investors who welcome innovation and potential to slide from the label of investor to speculator. Big risks and big rewards are the reality, but it is too easy to think big risks equal big rewards. There are no guarantees. When the risks lead to rewards, it can be marvelous. Hey, that’s one of the reasons I retired at 38. (See my book: Dream. Invest. Live.) When the risks lead to – well – nothing, it can be traumatic. That’s one of the reasons I became un-retired. (Not the only one, but that story is leading to the sequel. A bit much to go into right now, but read about My Triple Whammy for those details.)
I remember shaking. Dendreon (DNDN) finally succeeded, technically. They developed a real cancer vaccine, FDA-approved and all of that. It was a monumental struggle, but the succeeded at saving lives where no other treatment did much more than mild improvements. That produced dancing, not shaking. One of the first quarters when we expected to hear about real-world successes and real-world profits, they announced they missed their revenue target. It wasn’t that they weren’t successful. It was that they weren’t successful enough quick enough. They made hundreds of millions of dollars, but the stock market didn’t care. Follow the DNDN tag on this blog that long story. Not only did the company fail, but lives that could’ve been saved have been lost. Tens of thousands, potentially. The shaking commenced.
When that stock sunk, I shook. I felt sorry for so many of my friends who also invested in it. I called a few to commiserate and console. As Spider Robinson observed; “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased.” I also became aware of yet another aspect of our society where people in pain are likely to be reviled rather than comforted. Individual stockholders trying to do better than a mutual fund are treated as if they are privileged pariahs who don’t deserve sympathy. I’ve had people tell me they are glad to see it happen, even when the folks it happened to only had as much as their accuser. Turning that around is unrealistic, and is why I encourage people shaking with the shock of lost dreams and lost finances to reach out to each other. As contentious as online forums can be, they can also be a source of community in time of need.
One irony is that, for some of the companies I’ve invested in and watched crumple, their technologies and services can eventually succeed. Good ideas don’t die easily. The employees who developed them can move on and find fertile ground for them elsewhere. Intellectual properties, like patents, can continue. The benefits to the world may be delayed, at a cost, but new champions can carry them to their goal. Shareholders may not benefit directly, but after a company implodes it helps me to know that there may yet be indirect benefits.
As a society, we stumble. We’re terrible at getting something right the first time. We haven’t had one consistent plan since the days when the only plan was to survive another day. Yet, we continue to move. Whoever said it doesn’t matter, but; “There is chaos under heaven and the situation is excellent.” I’m having a hard time with ‘excellent’, but agree that this is the way we progress. Try. Try. Try.
The coronavirus may or may not be a pandemic. It is certainly disruptive and deadly enough. We can’t manage every risk, predict every scenario, control every situation; but we can help each other, recognize each other’s pain, and find a way to keep trying, trying.