In September 2001, I was the young co-founder of a NYC tech startup, TripleHop Technologies. We were building recommendation engine software, à la Amazon. We had maybe 25 people on the team at the time.
Our office was located on the 53rd floor of the North Tower at the World Trade Center.
We had ended up at the World Trade Center fairly randomly. Our first office was located on Water Street, right above a 24 hour McDonald’s. It looked more like a decrepit apartment than an actual office, occasionally didn’t smell that great, but it was cheap and good enough.
But after a year or so, the team had grown, and that office had become too small, so we started looking for a bigger one.
At the time, for a reason or another, there wasn’t a lot of office inventory on the market in the area where we wanted to be. We looked for a bit, couldn’t find anything suitable, until one of us had the strange idea of inquiring at the World Trade Center, which felt like a long shot.
Turned out that the World Trade Center had some smaller offices, and some availability. In those dot-com bubble days, they also were quite eager to attract young tech startups, and were willing to offer us some preferential terms.
So we went to take a look, and visited two offices in the North Tower.
One was a large office at the very top of the building, perhaps the 104th floor, I don’t exactly recall. It had unbelievable views, but it really felt like taking that office would be pushing it – even with a good deal, we were just a little seed-funded startup, after all. Also, the elevator ride took forever.
So instead we chose the smaller, cheaper office on the 53rd floor. You can see us on the listed as a tenant here.
We really liked our new office, and the World Trade Center in general. It felt like a little town, with a lot of retail and amenities below the surface, and its own subway station. We ate a bit too often at a Sbarro joint located right outside the ground floor elevator.
The night before 9/11, my co-founder Renaud Laplanche and I worked very late into the evening, as we did most nights. In true nerdy founder fashion, we played a ping pong game or two, as we did pretty much every time before calling it a night – the ping pong table being our attempt at creating a startup culture. I left, and think Renaud may have stayed on that night to finish working on a proposal for a prospective customer.
The morning after, when the plane hit the North Tower at 8:46am, I was home, about to leave for work. Like many young tech guys, we were night owls but not early birds, typically showing up at the office around 9:30am. I had the TV on, and as about to turn it off and walk out of the door, saw the “breaking news” scroll at the bottom of the screen mentioning a plane collision, but no image. As I had a faraway view of the World Trade Center from the window of my West Village studio apartment, I looked up and saw what seemed like a little bit of smoke at the top.
I assumed the plane that had hit the tower was a small tourist plane. We would often see them fly by the office, above the nearby Hudson River, often at altitudes that felt very close to us. It had crossed my mind more than once that it wouldn’t take that much for one of them to hit the tower by accident.
Then, like so many others, I saw those unbelievable images on TV.
I called my family back in France. Shortly thereafter, phone lines went down.
The rest of the day was surreal and gut-wrenching, although I remember feeling mostly numb.
I went on a mad scramble to see if everyone at TripleHop was ok. For many hours, we just didn’t know. With no phone working, we accounted for most people via email, but a number did not reply for a while.
It eventually turned out only one person from the team, Kenton Beerman, was at the office at 8:46am. He made it out shocked but unscathed, and you can read parts of his story here.
Perhaps as a way to cope psychologically, or just because they were amazing people, I remember that the team was incredibly focused on saving the business that day. This was obviously pre-AWS, we had our own server room in our office, but thankfully our CTO Joaquin Delgado and his team had backed everything up. By the end of the day, we were essentially back up and running.
After a few days, we found shared office space. But business didn’t go back to usual. In addition to everything else, 9/11 was the final nail in the coffin for the economy after the dot com bubble burst. The next couple of years were a complete nuclear winter. Thankfully, we had raised a $5M Series A a few months before 9/11, which kept us afloat, and also managed to win a few deals in Europe, which gave us a bit more cash. Eventually business picked up strongly in late 2003 and 2004, potential acquirers came knocking, and TripleHop was acquired by Oracle in 2005.
We all went on with our lives. My co-founder Renaud reached extraordinary success and defined a whole new industry, regardless of the recent rough patches. We all have families now. I occasionally see pictures of beautiful children on my Facebook feed.
I rarely talk about 9/11, and have tried to not think about it too much. It took me a very long time to go visit the 9/11 memorial downtown. I finally made it just a few weeks ago, after a board meeting nearby, walking there almost by accident.
Looking at the names engraved in the marble, I was reminded that it wouldn’t have taken much. An hour later, a few floors lower. Or choosing that office on the 104th floor instead of the other one, a few months prior.
And I feel deeply connected not just to those names, but to New York. Before 9/11, New York felt like an exciting, but ultimately foreign, city. After 9/11, I truly started feeling like a New Yorker.
Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. Everyone has a story of some sort, many infinitely more tragic.
This is just mine.