Traveling from the heights of the Nepalese mountains to the lows of Silicon Valley, playwright and actor Jonathan Mirin took his HBS audience on a rollercoaster ride through the boom and bust of the late 90s Internet era. Mirin performed his autobiographical play “Riding the Wave.com” last week in an event sponsored by the Art Appreciation Society and Entertainment and Media Club.
Mirin’s story began in New York, where he performed skits in public elementary schools to support his career as a struggling actor. One of his fellow teachers seduced Mirin into the promise of easy money by purchasing the stock of Wave Systems (Wave), a company with the promise of a proprietary Internet security technology. His initial investment in Wave of $400 (his life savings) ballooned as the stock price rose.
Having never attended the Harvard Business School, Mirin was unfamiliar with the theory of portfolio diversification. He invested all of his money in Wave’s stock. When he ran out of his own money, he resorted to every American’s birthright- credit card debt (and margin). Mirin’s re-enactment of his investing and constant stock price checking conjured up images of a believer who has drunk the Kool-Aid of tech stock riches. Mirin admitted that the thrill he experienced watching Wave’s stock skyrocket was disturbingly similar to the rush he felt as a shoplifting youth-a feeling of getting something for nothing.
Mirin’s worth soon grew to $100,000-which felt like a million dollars to him-all thanks to the market exuberance over Wave. But what goes up must come down. This is when the play became really interesting. Like a tormented soul, Mirin struggled for calm as Wave’s stock went down and then up and then down, down, down. He ran away to distant lands and meditated in solitude for 20 days-only to find that he could not find the peace that he sought. Finding an Internet caf‚ in every thatch-roof village in India, and in every alpine town in Bavaria – he could not tear himself away from watching the price movements of Wave’s stock. Just as he rode the wave up, Mirin rode Wave’s stock all the way down to $1.28.
With $65,000 in debt (less than the annual budget of attending HBS), Mirin declared bankruptcy, and found freedom from the lust for money that had plagued him when he had more. Mirin sold his soul to the god of greed, but found redemption in losing it all (and finding love). A soothing wave washed over Mirin and the audience as the demon of lust and desire was swept away. In the end, this was a story about a man – every man – consumed by greed and illusions. An apt story for those of us riding our own waves – searching for quick returns in our job searches and careers.