By Kerry Hannon, Special for
As CEO and editor-in-chief of Doubledown Media, during “this decade with the once-a-millennium calendar quirk of two zeroes perched in the middle,” Lane founded or re-launched six magazines, including Trader Monthly , Dealmaker and Private Air . His media company, formed in 2004, was valued on paper at $17 million by 2008, with revenue of $12 million.
Its secret: It churned out publications designed to boost the egos of traders and hedge fund operators and flatter their conspicuous consumption. The magazines lived on those luxury-product advertising dollars.
At the “apex” of Doubledown’s “influence,” the company “sent magazines to 500,000 different people worldwide, and reached over 100,000 a day with our electronic newsletters. Tens of thousands of people attended our events,” Lane writes.
Those days for Doubledown, alas, were short-lived. It all came smashing down in February of 2009, when the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation. While numerous Doubledown creditors were left wanting more, Lane is quick to point out, he had some skin in the game, too. When the firm was falling short of payroll funds, he threw his own savings (and his mom’s) into the hopper. His personal financial scrubbing: close to $530,000.
For readers, Doubledown’s implosion yarn can be captivating — it’s hard to pull your eyes away from a train wreck. And Lane, now an editor-at-large of The Daily Beast , adroitly guides readers through his media-darling adventures, catering to the Wall Street billionaires and wanna-be billionaires in a bizarre era of greed and excess. Doubledown’s motto: “See it, Make it, Spend it.”
“We celebrated gluttony,” Lane writes.
He’d clearly found a sweet spot in print media that appealed to the Street: “The only question anyone ultimately wanted answered from a magazine ‘for traders, by traders’ during this dizzying run-up was: Who’s making what? Someone needed to keep score. As much as anything, it was our willingness to do so — for the first time, the secret pay packages of the entire financial elite would be shared with the world — that put Trader Monthly on the map.”
Don’t be surprised if reading this drawn-out tale leaves a faintly sour taste in your mouth. It should. While this is one small company’s journey into the fray, it is, in many ways, the perfect prism to view the larger picture of what was happening across the financial canvas during those sky’s-the-limit years.
There’s no escaping the repugnant behavior of many of the Wall Street players. Yet, you want to have a look under the hood to see what was going on. Lane is in a position to record it and is a colorful writer with an eye for detail. To do so, he has doggedly re-created his “zero” years, via a journey back through 43,528 e-mails that he received from 2004 to 2009, as well as 19,296 that he sent, allowing him to “reconstruct every day with a dizzying degree of minute-to-minute precision,” he explains. It’s a weird ride, to say the least.
The financial players in Lane’s tale aren’t household names, even though they might have fancied they were. They yearned to be rock stars, and being on the cover of one of Doubledown publications was a “hugely desirable piece of real estate,” Lane writes.
Fortysomething Lane owns up to his own foibles. “In my role as Wall Street’s scorekeeper, I, too, had fallen prey to the mind warp. …Wall Street’s breathless pursuit of zeroes, that easy-money mentality,” he writes. “Wealth and excess have a blinding effect, especially amid the kind of greedfest that comes along only once every thousand years.”
He confesses: “I spent all my time scrambling manically to Get Big Fast, from the venture-capital meetings to rancorous quick-fix partnerships. … I neglected the day-to-day operations.” Then it happened — the crash of 2008 hit. “The summer of 2008 for us, and too many others: money coming in at a glacial crawl, money flying out like the economic party would last forever, and a management team too blind to see the obvious,” Lane writes.
The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane
By Randall Lane
Portfolio, $27.95, 359 pages