Inside An Internet Ipo
Disheveled and exhausted, Chris Larsen stomps into Windows on the World, the ritzy restaurant on the 107th floor of Manhattan's World Trade Center. The chief executive of E-Loan Inc. is here for a dinner to toast the online mortgage company's biggest milestone yet: its initial public offering, scheduled for the next day, June 29. But Larsen is hopping mad, Chief Financial Officer Frank Siskowski is dead tired, and co-founder and President Janina Pawlowski isn't even here.
Some party. Sheer exhaustion clearly plays a part in all this gloom, since the E-Loan execs have just finished a grueling two weeks of crisscrossing the country to pitch investors. But there is more at play here. Rival Intuit Inc. has just issued a claim that its QuickenMortgage.com site made more loans in the first quarter--a low blow on the eve of E-Loan's IPO. And Pawlowski? She'sdownright angry with Goldman Sachs & Co., E-Loan's underwriter and the dinner's host. Earlier in the day, Goldman quashed the trio's hopes for a high stock price, citing worries about wavering investors--leaving her with no appetite for the bankers' company.
Mostly, they're all vexed by one inescapable fact: E-Loan's fate is now utterly up in the air. A month earlier, nearly every Internet IPO rocketed to the sky. But after several weeks of seesawing Net stocks and with a summer swoon possibly approaching, the E-Loan IPO could just as likely flop. Goldman General Partner Lawton Fitt isn't offering much comfort. Once the IPO opens, she says, "it'll be the longest half-hour of your life. It's like being on a hang glider, running off the side of a cliff, and hoping the winds aren't blowing against you."
Going public: It's the ultimate rite of passage for a young company, marking the transformation from startup adolescence to corporate adulthood. For one thing, it raises a war chest--in E-Loan's case, more than $50 million--and makes millionaires out of hard-working employees. Even more important, a public company commands instant credibility, the ability to raise much more money from future offerings, and a lofty stock price that can be used for acquisitions. That's why, in the first six months of 1999 alone, 231 companies went public--nearly two every business day--raising $26.7 billion, according to business researcher Hoover's Inc.
Yet for all the attention IPOs command, they remain shrouded in secrecy. The Securities & Exchange Commission bars companies from hyping stock with anything but a prospectus, so the public is pretty well shut out of the process. Until now. By agreeing to hold publication until the "quiet period" ends, 25 days after the IPO, BUSINESS WEEK obtained rare access to E-Loan's offering process--from the painstaking preparations for investor presentations all the way to the launch on Goldman's trading floor.
The picture that emerges defies the popular image of IPOs as a sure and easy path to riches. As common as they are today, IPOs are amazingly fragile. It doesn't matter much whether a company has a track record of increasing revenues and a bright future. IPOs are especially subject to the whims of investors--and lately, they've been in a bad mood. With Net bellwethers such as Amazon.com and eBay down more than 40% from their late-April highs, investors suddenly are no longer bidding up every Net IPO they can get their hands on.
SOME GO SPLAT. A few companies continue to soar: Red Hat Software Inc.'s IPO tripled on Aug. 11, and Agile Software Inc.'s doubled on Aug. 20. But many are getting delayed, postponed, or priced lower than expected. And some that have dared to go for it have, well, gone splat. When it filed to go public on June 2, for instance, E-Loan rival Mortgage.com had planned to raise as much as $112 million. Not only did its initial price of $8 come in well below its expected price range--raising half the expected amount--but it even fell its first day, to 7 5/32.
With its offering, E-Loan was dancing closer to the cliff's edge than any IPO to date. A few comments in May from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan that plunged the market into turmoil nearly ended E-Loan's dream. But Larsen couldn't abide waiting, especially with rivals lurking in the wings. "Every month makes a difference," he said at the time. "The idea of a competitor beating us to an IPO is very threatening." Against the advice of its bankers, E-Loan plowed ahead--and slipped in before the window started to slam shut.
But what a hair-raising ride: After opening at $21, which was 50% higher than the offering price, it closed at $37 and hit $63 a week later--valuing E-Loan at $2.4 billion. Then, as the market soured in late July, so did E-Loan's stock, falling to around $21 and wiping out some $1.5 billion in market value. It's no wonder Silicon Valley executives call IPO riches "funny money."
UP FOR GRABS. Yet IPOs are no laughing matter: They are an absolute must for survival in the hyperspeed Internet Age. They're a one-time chance to rise above the cyber bedlam and establish leadership in the short time that it's still up for grabs. These are nutty days, as startups thumb their noses at conventional business practices and spend way past their apparent means to stake out their turf. It's a cold fact that, without mountains of IPO money and especially a sky-high stock price to fund acquisitions, the odds are against a newcomer ever making it big. Already, E-Loan's new stature is greasing its way. On Aug. 23, E-Loan used 2.9 million of its shares to buy CarFinance.com from Bank of America Corp., moving the upstart into the market for car loans. The stock rocketed 75%, to 40 7/8, in the following two days.
E-Loan's experience going public provides a peek into what any IPO prospect might now expect in this volatile market. Its IPO is a tale of giddy highs and exhausted despair, of surprising insights both corporate and personal. It's a story of how two founders, nearly broke less than two years ago, persevered against the odds and especially against their own doubts. It's about how, just as they were about to start on the roadshow, the IPO nearly slipped out of their grasp. And how, even on the day of the IPO, their joy was tempered by the untimely death of a colleague the night before. Not the least, as the market plays havoc with E-Loan's stock, the IPO is a telling reminder of the vanishingly thin line between failure and success.
"Sometimes I feel like, why do I have the right to do this?" -- E-Loan CEO Chris Larsen
It's December, 1998, and Internet stocks are red-hot in advance of the first cyber Christmas. There's no better time to go public. And business is booming: Although high marketing expenses have put E-Loan firmly in the red, its revenues will hit $6.8 million in 1998, up 555% from 1997. It was only three years before that Larsen, a former Chevron Corp. auditor, and onetime mortgage broker Pawlowski ditched the conventional mortgage business they founded in 1992 to start E-Loan. They saw going online as a way to turn the mortgage business on its ear, saving home buyers 50% on fees by cutting the loan agent out of the picture. Already, they have managed to build a leading brand name and loan volume against the likes of giant Microsoft Corp.'s HomeAdvisor and online sites of mortgage behemoths such as Countrywide Home Loans Inc. and Norwest Mortgage Inc.
Despite a $25.4 million investment by Yahoo!, Japan's Softbank Holdings, and venture firm Sequoia Capital last September, they're going to need money soon. They've just hired CFO Siskowski, a 52-year-old veteran of two public companies, Visa International and software maker Indus Group Inc. But there are still no heads of marketing or operations. Some E-Loan board members and close advisers aren't certain that the company is ready for an IPO.
Larsen and Pawlowski harbor their own doubts--more about themselves than their company. Soft-spoken but intense, with a wicked sense of humor, Larsen is the son of a United Airlines Inc. mechanic--a union man who thought the system was rigged against the little guy. The only thing that kept the 38-year-old E-Loan founder going in the early days was anger that the system might prevent him, too, from succeeding. He wonders if he's worthy.
HANDS FULL. So does Pawlowski, the self-deprecating daughter of postwar immigrants who ran a credit union to help fellow Poles buy their first houses in America. She feels she's continuing a family tradition. But the 39-year-old former Xerox Corp. analyst, who moved to Silicon Valley with her husband in 1989, has had a tough several years: Starting up E-Loan contributed to the breakup of her marriage in 1995--and trashed her credit so badly that when she tries out a rival loan site, she is denied. Pawlowski has her hands full at home, too: She has a 9-year-old son to bring up, and her father has Alzheimer's disease.
Regardless, the IPO window is open, and the market waits for no one. On Jan. 13, E-Loan's board gives the O.K. to interview investment bankers, and they're off to the races. By early February, E-Loan finishes the "bakeoff," the competition among seven investment banks to underwrite the offering and earn 7% of the proceeds. This fat sum--more than $3 million in E-Loan's case--makes Pawlowski wonder if investment banking is overdue for its own middleman massacre.
But E-Loan needs the help, especially coverage by the investment bank's analysts to spur investor interest. That's what tips the scales. IPO powerhouse Morgan Stanley Dean Witter loses, largely because it can't promise coverage by its star Net analyst, Mary Meeker. Goldman, whose knowledge of E-Loan and its industry shines, will lead the deal, with help from Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc. and its online arm DLJ Direct, plus Hambrecht & Quist and E*Trade.
The timing is tight. E-Loan wants to go public before Memorial Day, when investors start vacationing and might lose interest. The company immediately jumps into drafting the prospectus. It's five weeks of pure boredom, painstakingly writing every word, number, and possible risk to investors. Just hammering out a one-line mission statement takes the execs, bankers, and lawyers four hours. "It's like 35 people trying to write a term paper," moans Larsen. It's crucial, however--not only is the prospectus the only document a company can use to attract investors, but it's the chief defense against lawsuits by investors if the stock ever tanks.
NO TURNING BACK. At 8 a.m. on Mar. 22, Siskowski arrives at the Palo Alto (Calif.) office of financial printer Bowne & Co. to wrap it all up. He won't leave until the final draft is done--32 hours later--except for one short break at 3 a.m. to chow down on some eggs at a nearby diner. Finally, at 4:50 p.m. on Mar. 23, Larsen and Pawlowski press the send button to zap the prospectus electronically to the SEC. E-Loan's private life has ended, and there's no turning back.
After the filing, strangers keep calling and E-mailing Larsen and Pawlowski. They claim to be old high school buddies, even while spelling their names wrong. They're all angling to get on the "friends and family" list, people close to the company who get shares at the initial offering price. They even get a call from Barbra Streisand. Pawlowski is so thrilled--and impressed with Streisand's gumption to call people she has never met--that she puts her on the list.
With the world now watching, E-Loan must quickly beef up its operations so investors can find no holes. Indeed, Larsen uses the filing deadline to spur managers and partners to close at least five deals fast--including expansion into Japan and Europe and higher warehouse credit lines to fund consumer loans. Says Doug Galen, vice-president for business development: "Everything's happening at warp speed."
So is the market for IPOs. In January and February alone, 36 Net companies have filed to go public, up from two in the same period last year. On Mar. 30, Priceline.com slams a home run, soaring 331% on its first day. Despite the euphoria, lots of industry watchers worry that the market is overheated. Warns Yahoo! CEO Tim Koogle, an E-Loan director: "Too much capital is chasing too many companies." Nobody knows how long the longest bull market in U.S. history will run, but everybody knows it won't last forever. No time to lose.
"You're fighting just to have investors remember who the hell you are when they write the check two weeks later." -- Judith McGarry, roadshow coach
Judith McGarry, roadshow coach
Throughout April, execs and bankers spend several days carefully crafting a roadshow slide presentation for Larsen, Pawlowski, and Siskowski. Once it's completed, they do practice runs in front of Judith H. McGarry--a partner at Stone Communications, a San Francisco communications consulting firm. They need some work: While Siskowski seems to have the rhythm right, Larsen talks too fast, and Pawlowski sounds too tentative. They spend hours at a stretch for several days trying to polish the delivery to keep the attention of jaded investors, who see dozens of IPO presentations a week. Selling stock, it seems, is surprisingly like selling cars or deodorant.
Now, on a warm early May afternoon, it's time to hone their act in front of the underwriters. Even in the green fluorescent glare of a glass-walled E-Loan conference room called the Fish Bowl, the trio looks smooth. Then one Goldman banker, playing investor, fires some tough questions at them. Larsen tells the "investor" he's mistaken about a couple of facts, and McGarry objects: Don't contradict the guy with the fat checkbook, she warns. "But they're wrong!" Larsen protests, breaking into a sweat. "I'm not going to water down what's a revolution. If they don't like it, go and invest in Countrywide and don't f***in' invest in us."
"DELICATE BALANCE." There's a pause, some pursed lips, and downcast eyes. Then Pawlowski quips: "In all the years I've worked with Chris, he's only pissed off 40 people." After the meeting, McGarry winces. "I'm going to have to beat him up a bit," she says. "He's got to learn how to behave." But it's a delicate balance, she adds: "I would hate to throttle that passion. Investors just love that."
For the next two weeks, E-Loan is busy signing a European investment deal with Group Arnault, closing a Japanese deal with Softbank, and answering the SEC's prospectus questions. They also prepare themselves for the roadshow. Pawlowski gets her bangs trimmed and buys a Christian Dior suit. Larsen works out in a health club to steel himself for the roadshow's dawn-till-past-dusk daily regimen.
But then, their smooth road to the IPO suddenly dissolves into gravel. Nearly two months into the second quarter, it's apparent that rising interest rates have slowed refinancings, which had made up 96% of E-Loan's completed loans in the first quarter. Mortgages for new-home purchases are growing fast--great news--but they take longer to close. That means they can't avoid a flat quarter, which could spook investors. During a conference call with Goldman on May 24, Larsen and Pawlowski reluctantly agree to delay the IPO pending a conference call with all the underwriters' analysts the following week.
Even before then, the market heads south. On May 26, two Net IPOs--free E-mail service Juno Online Services and Internet access provider Ziplink Inc.--"break," or fall below their offering price, on the first day. That's a disastrous enough sign, but the next day, the Dow Jones industrial average plummets 235 points. Everything seems to be falling apart.
Indeed, on June 3, Goldman comes back with gut-wrenching advice: Wait until the end of July to get the flat quarter behind the company. "That would mean eight weeks of waiting," moans Larsen. Afraid they might miss the IPO window, they huddle with their board, then get on the horn again with Goldman bankers--who pitch another option: drop E-Loan's filing range by about $2 a share, to between $9 and $11, which should keep investors interested. "Ew--do we want to do that?" asks Pawlowski. That would mean a drop of around $7 million in what they raise--and might even look like they're desperate.
They finally agree, figuring they can raise the range again closer to the IPO. Besides, they need to move fast: E-Loan is down to $4.1 million in cash, after losing $11.4 million in the first quarter. It's not that they can't get more money. Softbank has offered to invest more in E-Loan. But there's no telling how much longer they might get delayed if they wait now--or when rivals might file to go public. They can't afford to wait.
"This is way worse than I thought it would be!" -- President Janina Pawlowski
Shortly after briefing the underwriters' sales forces in New York and San Francisco, the show gets rolling on June 15 at mutual-fund giant T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. in Baltimore. It's one of many large investors they'll pitch to in the next two weeks--usually one-on-one with a money manager, sometimes with 20 or more investors from different funds. A pattern establishes itself right away, Pawlowski writes in a diary entry posted to employees--all of them shareholders--on the company intranet:
"Drive, drive, drive. Park. Go to the bathroom. Present [to the investors]. Get feedback. Go to the bathroom. Drive, drive, drive...Park, run, run, run, sweat, run. No time for the bathroom!...Whew!...Do we have to do this again tomorrow?" It soon strikes her that they're living some twisted version of the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray relives one day over and over.
On the second day of investor meetings, starting in Milwaukee, they start to hit their stride--and get a little taste of what riches can bring. Outside a meeting, Larsen sees their stretch limousine and shakes his head: "Isn't this the height of capitalism?" They're driven right onto the tarmac at the Milwaukee airport to their chartered jet. Onboard, Pawlowski hands Larsen a magazine called Millionaire. He flips through the publication, spies an article entitled The Rich Man in His Castle and throws it down, muttering: "You get really twisted reading this stuff."
GETTING PUNCHY. Talk turns to other money matters, such as the mystery of IPO pricing. They're both suspicious of the underwriters, who won't say much about the process. "There's some banker in New York who you've never met making the decision," says Larsen.
By a 3 p.m. meeting in Minneapolis, their fourth city of the day, they're getting punchy. When one investor nods off, Larsen almost bursts out laughing--and to avoid it must hand off his presentation two slides early to a surprised Siskowski. To avoid laughing herself, Pawlowski digs her fingernails painfully into her palms. Still, Larsen suspects one money manager in New York didn't invest--the only one they visited not to do so--because Larsen's fake cough failed to disguise his giggles.
Finally, on the chartered jet to Kansas City that evening, Larsen and Pawlowski relax. Sipping a Red Hook beer, Larsen--like Pawlowski, an active Democrat--muses about how companies like his may eliminate so many jobs that governments will be forced to become more socialist. "Of course," he adds, "I won't be describing this scenario to investors."
The next week and a half is a blur of meetings, sometimes eight a day, sometimes starting at 7 a.m.--excruciating for Larsen and Pawlowski, who hate mornings. They zip from Denver to San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Chicago to Houston to New York to Boston, and finally back to New York--58 meetings and close to 200 money managers in all. They often subsist on Power Bars and water until dinner. But somehow, they get their message through. Emmy Sobieski, a fund manager at San Diego mutual fund group Nicholas Applegate, is impressed with E-Loan's passion to change its industry and its ability to roll with interest-rate hikes. "They reacted very, very nimbly," she says.
By the last day of the roadshow, Friday, June 25, they're a well-oiled machine. Ever cautious, however, Sean Macnew, one of two Goldman analysts to accompany E-Loan on parts of the roadshow, says they should not get too excited about the 70 people who show up for their noon presentation at the stuffy Metropolitan Club in New York: "A lot of people come for the free lunch." By now, Larsen wants to strangle him.
After their presentation, investors pepper them with almost two dozen questions: Why are 12% of customers dissatisfied? When will you break even? How do you avoid bias on loans that they fund themselves compared with those referred to other lenders? "He didn't answer your question," one money manager says to that last questioner. Some duck out early, while others seem to pay more attention to the chicken and the mesclun salad. An outsider might think E-Loan's IPO will die a humiliating death. But the trio, drawing on some sixth sense, seems happy. Or maybe they're just relieved that their "two-week death march," as Siskowski calls it, is finally over.
"I have a bomb. I want $16 a share, or I blow the place up." -- Chris Larsen
On Monday, after a weekend that feels to Larsen "like waiting for open-heart surgery," the trio has a morning conference call with Fitt to review investor demand. Her gut feeling based on knowledge of prospective investors--and it seems that's about as scientific as it gets--tells her they can raise the price range to between $12 and $14, which would show momentum.
Problem is, Larsen and Pawlowski had been hoping for $16 a share, the price Softbank had offered to pay a month earlier when it looked like the IPO might not go. That would net E-Loan millions of dollars more--about $3.5 million for each extra dollar in share price. Now, this looks unlikely. And since Larsen doesn't actually have the bomb he joked about with Pawlowski before the meeting, he has little leverage. "It was like a kick in the stomach," says Pawlowski. "I wanted to hear some encouraging words, and there was nothing." Adds Siskowski: "I feel like I've been to a proctologist--and he had a very cold finger."
It's a feeling many startups experience. Indeed, Proxicom Inc., which went public in April, dumped Goldman as lead banker after disagreeing on the company valuation. But most can't afford such battles. "It's easy to feel overwhelmed with the process," says Yahoo!'s Koogle. "In the end, none of us controls any of it." By day's close, when E-Loan's price is finally set at $14, at the top of the range, it's clear that investors liked what they saw. Orders pile in for 109 million shares--26 times as many as will actually be sold. It's a strong show of support--so strong that E-Loan execs wonder anew why the heck they couldn't have upped the price to $16. "All this work on the IPO, and we could have raised as much in one day" from investor Softbank, grouses Larsen.
"Now it's out of your hands. It's all up to investors." -- Goldman Sachs analyst Roy Navon
Larsen arrives before anyone else on the morning of June 29 at the 1 New York Plaza offices of Goldman Sachs, near Wall Street. He's red-eyed after a sleepless night--although he fared better than former USWeb CEO Joe Firmage, who believes he saw an alien one night just before his company went public. "I totally get that now," Larsen deadpans. "If it wasn't for the Prozac, I never would have gotten through it." Jokes aside, he wouldn't miss any of this for the world. In less than an hour, the first shares will start trading and Larsen will know whether the work was worth it.
He's soon joined by Pawlowski, her 9-year-old son, Adrian, who's wearing an E-Loan polo shirt and a Lion King cap on backwards, and her two teenage nieces. Adrian offers everyone fluorescent-colored candy vines, but Larsen and Pawlowski decline--no room around the knots in their stomachs. "This is it, Chris!" Adrian shouts, and gives him a high-five. On the way down to Goldman's trading floor, Larsen feels for his lucky charms--a St. Christopher medal and a rubbing rock--and suddenly looks panic-stricken. He forgot them! "They're still in my bag," he mutters uncertainly, "so that counts."
On the huge trading floor, plastered against a wall, Larsen, Pawlowski, and Siskowski look powerless and vulnerable. All they're allowed to do is watch as hundreds of twentysomethings, mostly men in starched shirts and ties, stare at large PC screens, occasionally yelling, "88, Johnny!" or "737,000 Staples to buy, J.M.!" A large green ticker overhead silently spools out arcane stock symbols and prices.
Fitt and another Goldman managing director, Robert Shea, lean into a screen that stands 30 feet away, watching events intently. They're waiting for the end of a 15-minute no-trading window before the opening that Nasdaq requires to make sure there are no pricing anomalies--such as bids that are identical, providing no incentive for trades. Breathless with anticipation, Pawlowski squeaks: "C'mon, I can't breathe!" Then Fitt and Goldman analyst Roy Navon hustle over to explain that the stock likely will open at 20 1/2, then fall by two or three points. "That's cool," says Larsen. "In this market, that would be very successful."
Back at the screen, Shea yells, "O.K., you got 20 7/8 open!" Just before noon, when traders aren't quite so busy as earlier, EELN, E-Loan's symbol, comes snaking across the ticker. "Awesome," says Navon. "You're up 50%!" Grinning ear to ear, Larsen hugs Pawlowski, who just sighs and hugs her nieces. Siskowski gives Larsen a soft, relieved high-five. It's no Priceline, perhaps, but it's "not too shabby," according to Siskowski. Larsen lingers, drinking it all in, burning it into his memory. "I'm never going to sleep again," he says.
"NO WAY!" Heading back upstairs, they call the troops back home in California, who have been watching the stock rise on a ticker set up in a vacant building next door. On the floor, someone has defiantly spray-painted "In Your Dreams, Quicken!" and dead-body outlines labeled "iOwn.com" and "Mortgage.com." Emotions are mixed: E-Loan's Bob Farrace, a loan specialist in his 60s, died of a heart attack the night before--a big loss in a company with only 250 people. But there are also tears of joy as champagne corks pop: The stock rises, and employees egg the ticker on: "30, 30, 30!"
Over the squawk box, Larsen hears someone say the stock just hit $38--only five minutes after it was at $23. Impossible. After they hang up, he laughs: "They're watching the wrong stock." But he's wrong: In a flash, the stock has rocketed--now it's up another $5, to $43. "No way!" he yells. "Omigod!" Finally, after all the struggle, it's payoff time. When the market closes a few hours later, E-Loan's stock will have risen 164% on the day. Their baby's worth a cool $1.4 billion.
"Every five minutes I run the calculator. How can you not have that on your mind?" -- Tara Kelly, E-Loan production manager
The next day, back at E-Loan's headquarters in Dublin, Calif., 45 minutes northeast of San Jose, employees are still giddy during a brief afternoon homecoming for the road warriors. And why not? Some 41 employees, such as loan production manager Debbie Stith, a single mom, are suddenly millionaires on paper. And as E-Loan's stock keeps rising--hitting a closing high of $63 on July 6--others can afford that new car, or set up a college fund. But there won't be much time to spend it, says fellow production manager Tara Kelly: "Now you have to work even harder."
FAT GAIN. Her warning is justified: While E-Loan's stock remains fairly steady for several weeks, it soon becomes clear that the IPO cuts both ways. By early August, E-Loan's stock sinks below $22, far below the first day's close. The culprits: higher interest rates, a sagging overall market, and investors finally sated from the IPO feast.
The stock remains well above its $14 offering price, so employees and early investors can still boast a fat gain on their investment. And there is an upside: Rivals missed the window. Before Mortgage.com's IPO dud, Larsen says, "we could easily have seen two or three competitors raise a bunch of money." Now, he says, E-Loan has the upper hand in deals.
But while stock declines are no surprise, they still hurt. Stith, who harbored hopes of cutting back on work to spend more time with her son shortly after her stock vests in two years, must put off such dreams a little further. Frets Pawlowski: "I always worry that I let people down." The bigger concern is how reliable its market value is for making more acquisitions. For all the money the IPO brought in, it's apparent that E-Loan's currency--like many new issues that offer relatively few shares to the public--is nearly as volatile as a South American country's.
The certainty of uncertain stock prices is why Larsen and Pawlowski aren't letting up. In just the first week after returning home, they signed two big deals: further expansion in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, and an agreement to provide multimedia financial material through cable Internet access provider Road Runner. Says Larsen: "It's like you pass the finish line of the marathon and people say, `Thanks a lot, but you still gotta run."' So they take a deep breath, another step, and don't even think about stopping.