Sunday, January 18, 2009
I walk down the south side of Sutter Street, lookin' for Prosper headquarters, 111 Sutter, also known as the Hunter-Dulin building. Suddenly I'm confronted by a bare breasted woman giving me the finger.
Those of you familiar with San Francisco will know that this sort of thing is not particularly unusual. Those stories about San Fran are all true. But this woman isn't just stoned. She is cast in stone.
Can you imagine erecting an office building today festooned with scupture of naked women? In the 20's there was a different style.
Hey, this could be our building.
Here's an address. Yea. This is the place.
Dig those columns! Carved columns and naked ladies. That's what they mean by romanesque!
Let your eye follow those columns up, and you see (photo credit: Flickr/frankfarm)...
Those gargoyles looking down at you are alternating birds and lion heads. They don't make 'em like this any more.
Looking down again, we see the main entrance. That's a sculpture of Mercury in the middle. Outstanding!
Go thru those doors now, and step into the lobby.
Not like any office building I ever worked in. Look at that ceiling! Hand painted. That's just incredible.
Don't linger too long. There are some security folks behind you. They don't yet know we're up to no good. They seem like very nice people. Smile.
Now walk past 'em like you know where you're goin'. We gotta check the building directory.
Yea. There it is. Prosper, on the 22nd floor. Lift the collar of your trenchcoat. We're goin' stealthy. Quickly now, into the elevator. As we enter the elevator, look down.
That brass floor inlay has been there 82 years now. The guts of the elevator system was replaced during the 2002 remodel, but some parts of the original elevator cars remain. Those fuzzy words in the center say "The Hunter Dulin Building". Hunter, Dulin & Company was a west coast investment bank who had this building built. I've failed to trace their history past 1928, but it isn't too hard to imagine what happened to investment banks during the great depression that followed soon after the Hunter Dulin Building was finished.
Don't push the 22 just yet. We're gonna pay a short visit to the 5th floor..
111 Sutter was the (story) location of Sam Spade's office in The Maltese Falcon. As we exit the elevator, we find Spade (Humphrey Bogart) hard at work in conference with some dame. That's San Francisco's Bay Bridge in the window. The bridge is somewhat out of scale. Hollywood took dramatic license to make the bridge look like it is right next door. In the real world, its 1 mile away. Today the view is obscured by a giant skyscraper some fool built (in 1964) just to the East of 111 Sutter.
I haven't found any physical evidence of Ward's time here anywhere in the building. Seems a shame. Rocky and Bullwinkle are important cultural icons, but they're enshrined in Los Angeles, so lets move on. Back on the elevator. Next stop, 22nd floor.
Did I mention that the elevator is haunted?
Oh, and I've managed to obtain a floor plan of the 22nd floor. Should help us navigate the Prosper offices.
The 22nd floor of 111 Sutter was the West Coast headquarters for NBC from 1927 thru 1943. NBC occupied the entire 22nd floor, just as Prosper does now. They had studios, offices, the electronics that amplified the audio and piped it all over the west coast thru phone wires. This was the place that the famous NBC chime sound originated. Note the "pipe organ loft". Not every office building has one of those.
In 1927, electronics was a little bigger than today. Even tho there was no radio transmitter at this site, the generator controls, DC power supplies, and audio amplifiers looked pretty impressive. This is the master control room at the upper right of the floor plan.
Generator controls in the back. DC power supply controls on your right. Audio equipment on your left. Prosper employees today occupy this very same space.
They must have had a great view of the Bay Bridge construction from here. The Bay Bridge was built between 1933 and 1936.
Here's studio A, with the 1941 NBC staff assembled for a group photo. Note that there's a mezzanine above the 22nd floor. I don't know what has become of that space. Catch the fancy inlaid wood balcony!
There's a lot more, but our elevator has arrived, and we step into the present-day 22nd floor elevator lobby.
Its kind of a letdown, isn't it? We can peer thru that little glass window in the door and see the reception lobby of Prosper.com
Doesn't seem to be anyone here to greet us. Hanging above you see a banner from the first ProsperDays convention in 2007 with signatures of attendees. Maybe they just don't notice us. Lets continue our stealth. Open the door and walk on in. Ah, the people are thru that door on the right.
Still nobody notices us. Its just as well. We sneak up behind this CBS news guy while Chris Larsen (CEO of Prosper.com) gives an interview. Notice that the environment is far less exotic here than the lobby. The exterior and the lobby are from a different world. In here its regular ol' office space, and it seems that Prosper has been pretty frugal with the furnishings. (No oil paintings on the walls, no books in the single bookcase.) Over the years this space has been remodeled many times. I can't help wishing that they could have at least left the balcony and the pipe organ.
Around the corner we can sneak into Prosper's executive offices. Ought to be some good stuff here.
Goldmine! On the whiteboard you can see Prosper's plans for new features. One feature described here looks like it will save lenders the need to wait 3 years to find out if their borrowers are going to pay them back. After the lender wins a participating position in a loan, three windows appear on his screen. They whirr around, and then a picture of a different fruit is displayed in each window. Its implementation quite complex, but the design is right there on the board.
Its getting late in the day, and there's so much more I want to see. I looped around the floor several times, but haven't found any area labelled "collections department". I did want to talk with those folks. Maybe next time.
I do see what could be a door leading to a roof hatch. Unfortunately, this familiar lookin' guy is hangin' around the area, and we have to wait awhile for him to leave. Wouldn't want to give ourselves away.
Finally he leaves, and we go thru the door and climb out onto the roof. It is amazing that we got this far. The security guard is strangely absent during our visit.
That amazing thing in the center is one of the 20 copper spires that adorn the roof of 111 Sutter. They were part of the original design, and can be seen in photographs taken in the 30's, but sometime during the 50's they disappeared. During renovation in 2001, the original plans for the spires were found in the basement, and they were recreated and installed. These contraptions and the leftover wiring from NBC's studios create the ectoplasmic resonance that will bring back Gozer the Destroyer. Just you wait and see.
One more picture. Don't look while I climb out to get this, and whatever you do, don't look down.
There's a lot more material on the Hunter Dulin building available on the web. Google is your friend.
By the way, I just noticed that on 01/16/2009 Prosper filed another amended S1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is the first amendment of the complete rewrite. That probably means approval is close at hand. Folks don't usually file amendments unless they are responsive to SEC comments, and thus likely to result in approval.
PS: For photo credits, click on the photos. Some photographs may not depict current events. Nothing in this article is intended as an offer to buy or sell securities. Your investments may lose value. This blog is not FDIC insured. No animals were harmed during the writing of this blog. And finally, don't believe everything you read on the internet.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Thus begins the study of comparative modern gothic horrors.
These buildings look a lot alike, at least from a distance. Similar construction, color, height, age. Each is square until about floor 15 where some sort of Art Deco thing begins to happen. The architectural detail, however, is entirely different.
The ghostbusters building, 55 Central Park West, New York, was built in 1929. It is famous, thanks to the movie and the famous real people who live there. But it is ugly and flat when viewed close up. At street level it looks like an old warehouse. Looking up you see what appear to be air conditioners hanging out of windows. New Yorker's pardon me... Its a dump.
The Hunter-Dulin building, 111 Sutter St, San Francisco, was built in 1927. It is a gothic palace with beautiful and amazing architectural detail. The books all say "It is San Francisco's only building with Romanesque and French Chateau ornamentation." I didn't know what that meant either, but I do now, and I'm gonna show you.
Oh, and it is home to Prosper.com . And Prosper's not just on just any floor. They're on the top floor. The famous top floor. Just below 20 gothic spires tuned to the fifth resonance of the ectoplasmic membrane. (You can see two of 'em in the picture above.) But I digress.
In a future installment, we'll go inside 111 Sutter for a behind-the-scenes tour. You'll meet some of the inhabitants, learn what really goes on there, and why Gozer picked the wrong building.
I'm gonna take you right up to the top floor where Prosper.com lives. We might even venture onto the roof, if the guard's not lookin'. Stay tuned .
PS: For photo credits, click on the photos.
Friday, January 2, 2009
These charts show statistics for the performance of all prosper.com loans. Each curve represents the set of loans that were created in one calendar month. The vertical axis is the fraction of those loans that have "gone bad", in other words are 1 month late or worse (up to and including default). The horizontal axis is the observation date. All data comes from Prosper.com's performance web page.
Here's a chart of the same data in which each curve has been slid to the left to a common origin. The horizontal axis is now days since loan origination month.
Explanation of methodology can be found in my prior postings in this blog, and in forum discussions on the old prosper forum, now archived at www.prosperreport.com
While the press bemoans the credit crisis, there is no such event visible in this data. There's simply nothing special about the last few months. Prosper.com loans continue to go bad at about the same rate as in earlier months. "Credit crisis" is no excuse. These loans simply form a very low quality portfolio, going bad at around 20% per year.
Loans originated after late 2007 look a little better, because Prosper raised the credit score cutoff, chopping off the worst borrowers, and thereby raising the average quality of the portfolio.
Meanwhile, there has been no improvement Prosper.com's collections activities. This appears to be a competely dead area, with no effort being expended on lender's behalf. In fact, Prosper has removed the collection statistics of their main collection agency Amsher from the Prosper web site. Lenders can no longer directly observe how bad collections are.
I'm sorry to notice that Prosper has removed the ROI calculation from their performance stats web page. Unfortunate, because it was the best ROI calculation around for these loans. It actually used the cash flows, instead of doing a hack calculation using "average loan age" as the 3rd party web sites do. My guess is that Prosper's damn lawyers once again advised them to provide even less service to their customer base (of lenders). Its a shame.
The best discussion among prosper.com lenders takes place on prospers.org.