When the Twin Towers fell

9-11, September 11, memorial

Sixteen years ago, I was in Paris working for a transatlantic VC firm. I was 26. It was a terrific day. The weather was amazing, it felt like the future was very promising despite some bruises on the Nasdaq.

We were trying to raise our next product, we had made a few (at that time) promising investments in the United States (I flew to Texas and Silicon Valley for that). We were recording our first write-off, while getting back 22 cents on the dollar, so we were rather philosophical. An intern just joined the team and I, at 26, was supervising her. I had my dream job, in VC transatlantic, and felt full of energy, ambition and dreams.

Then, it happened. My intern spotted it first on a Spanish website. (I suspect that she was not as interested by startups as I was.) Soon, all websites were out of reach. The radio was the only way to know what was happening. Rumors started to spread — accident, attack… Then, the second tower. Other planes. Pentagon. Planes grounded. This was chilling. I went home early to see the evening news (Paris is six hours ahead of New York). I saw the collapses again and again, until late at night. I could not believe that people could not escape. I wanted them to escape. It felt like I had to tell them to get out, through the TV, after it actually happened.

9-11, 9/11, September 11, memorial
Flowers and mementos are seen left among names at the edge of the south reflecting pool at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum during ceremonies marking the 16th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Then, the horror struck me. The voicemails. People jumping. It was a living nightmare. We were collectively knocked out. So far and so close at the same time. We wished we could do something, and yet — what? Even just speaking about it was an intense frustration. People started to devise solutions in case this would happen again. I remember someone suggesting special parachutes. Others special outside staircases.

I had no parent, no connection to the Twin Towers (or the four planes). I went there when I was five and that’s it. (I would go again only in 2008, and then in 2014, and last year as a tourist or for business.)

After that, my world changed. The Internet bubble burst and VC in Europe was savagely affected by the downfall. The new product was never raised. I got fired in January 2002. I could not find another job in the VC industry. I tried to do fund-raising, startup advisory and eventually realized that the nuclear winter was too long for my savings. I had to move to Switzerland and work in funds-of-funds, with the illusion that I would “go back to VC one day.”

I never could come back. The market changed and shifted so rapidly that if not an insider or a junior, it was almost impossible to build a case to go back. The U.S. was out of reach after 2001, and the European VC sector was contracting. I manage a friends-and-family fund, but it’s different.

Even if I was not there that day, the blow was real. I feel it, in my modest little way, every day since then. I always say to my wife that all my happy dreams are from before then, when I was in San Francisco as a detached employee of the firm. This is nothing compared to the actual suffering caused by this event to the people in the planes, in the towers or in the Pentagon.

I hope that this does not sound too self-centered. I was on one of the farthest ripples that this major rock created in the pond, but it was indeed life changing, even here.

This guest post was written by Cyril Demaria, a once-budding venture capitalist who now works in private equity. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own.

Photo: A New York City Police Department officer pauses at the edge of the south reflecting pool at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum during ceremonies marking the 16th anniversary of the attacks in New York, U.S., September 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid


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