The news doesn't stop for anyone's vacation. Still, it was nice of Wall Street to take things relatively slowly last week while I lollygagged on the beach. I went Webless for nine days, a (welcome) eternity. But same-day copies of
The Wall Street Journal
and day-old issues of
The New York Times
kept me in touch. It's odd how stories pursued, pondered and stewed over for months have a way of washing ashore while one relaxes in the sunshine. For example...
Finally, Soup for HomeGrocer.com
According to three reliable sources,
made a large investment in
of Bellevue, Wash., way back in April. At least that's what I
reported in the
San Jose Mercury News
on April 20. Then why oh why, wondered more than one reader over the ensuing weeks, was no announcement forthcoming from the tight-lipped upstart company or Amazon, which denied to comment on "rumor and speculation"?
The answer, according to a far more talkative Amazon spokesman Monday, is that HomeGrocer.com was in the middle of a crucial upgrade to its Web site so it can expand beyond the two markets it currently serves, Seattle and Portland, Ore. The last thing it wanted was the sort of premature publicity that brings potentially site-crashing traffic.
"We were afraid before the site upgrade that if large numbers of sightseers and the curious logged on to see what the site was like, they would have interfered with the services for HomeGrocer.com's customers," says the Amazon spokesman. For example, when the Seattle-based retailer announced its August 1998 purchase of
, he notes, the Web calendar and datebook site crashed for two consecutive days. "Whatever else, you can't allow things to get in the way of the customer experience," he says.
For the record, Amazon said last week it had paid $42.5 million for a 35% stake in HomeGrocer.com, which delivers fresh groceries to customers who order them on the Web. HomeGrocer.com raised an additional $10 million from other investors, including a $5 million chunk from the
, the new investment boutique of former
CEO James Barksdale.
Also for the record, when this column reports something as a fact, that's different from "rumor and speculation." The latter -- like recent
navel gazing about
President Raymond Lane bolting for
CEO Eric Schmidt
selling his company to
-- always will be labeled as such.
Level 3 CEO's Enlightened Self-Interest
Another old item humorously suggested that Pierre Omidyar, the founder and chairman of
(and a very, very rich person), should announce publicly that he'll sell a nominal number of shares every day for a certain period of time. That would enable him to convert some of his fabulous paper wealth into cash without suggesting a thing to investors about Omidyar's views on eBay's (still) lofty valuation.
Omidyar hasn't taken the advice. But another executive,
Level 3 Communications
CEO James Crowe, followed the script almost word for word.
In an "open letter" to shareholders last week, Crowe said he'll dispose of 1 million shares of Level 3 stock by selling 4,000 shares every trading day for 250 days. He'll do this by shifting the shares into a trust that will sell the shares "whether the stock price is higher or lower than it is today," he wrote May 17. The shares represent 9% of his stake in the Omaha, Neb.-based telecommunications service provider. Crowe said the trustee will "have no authority to expand, limit or suspend" the daily sales.
Crowe's move is a masterstroke. He takes the game out of analyzing his intentions. And he works his way around the oleaginous excuse many executives use for why they dump all their shares at once: that their "trading window" is too narrow to allow more orderly selling. (See
column for more on trading windows.)
There's another reason shareholders can feel good about the Level 3 CEO's gesture. It insulates them from plaintiff lawyers who sue the company on the grounds that the CEO manipulated the stock price for short-term gain.
"It's bulletproof," says Boris Feldman, a litigator with
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
in Palo Alto, Calif., who ends up defending companies whose executives sell stock just before the you-know-what hits the fan. Feldman has penned a
manifesto urging executives to establish such blind trusts, though few have heeded the call.
Finally, it was interesting to note that presidential hopeful
has invested some of his hard-earned speaking and consulting fees with
Hummer Winblad Venture Partners
of San Francisco, whose partners include former
pal John Hummer. Bradley no doubt hopes that in addition to adding to his wealth, the association with the VCs will boost his fundraising ability in Silicon Valley.
That presidential campaign fundraising, notes Mark Gorenberg, another Hummer Winblad partner, is surprisingly similar to the process startups follow.
"These people are like startups," notes Gorenberg, whose firm is one of HomeGrocer.com's backers. "How much they've raised is all that matters at the beginning." In other words, just as
George W. Bush
can scare off other contenders by piling up so much coin, a venture-backed startup can spook other would-be contestants.
The Silicon Valley mindset at work.
Adam Lashinsky's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a monthly column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at