Sramana: What were some of your lessons learned in those early days of forming the company?
Eli Sasson: We had some unpleasant hiccups on our way. We did all of the design and product research. We based everything on the PC environment, but during the same time, IBM pushed the PS/2 very aggressively in the educational market. The PS/2 was not just a different brand, it was a different technology. IBM changed the screens from digital screens into analog screens, and the keyboards moved from serial communication into a different protocol. We had customers who were interested in purchasing our product, but we could not sell them anything because our product was not compatible with PS/2.
Sramana: How far had you come in terms of revenue when the PS/2 started getting pushed in the marketplace?
Eli Sasson: We were still doing less than $1 million a year. We were probably around $500,000 at that point. We were just over a year into the product deployment in 1990. We quickly realized that we had not done the proper market research. We had a great design and great use case; we just did not do our homework on the technology. We failed there.
We then made a crazy rush. We had angry customers, and we could not supply them. We also started to see local competition emerge in the market. There was a company in the UK that had a similar system and a company in Germany that had built a similar system. We were really under a lot of pressure. Some of the technology was new to my partner. We were under a lot of pressure to bring a compatible product to market.
In the end, we were able to get the right product into the marketplace. We had considered closing the company, but at the very last moment we came up with something that was suitable. We were also lucky because we sent a product release document to a list of magazines. One of them was Byte magazine, although I did not realize that they had published anything about us. I walked into the office one day and saw a bunch of papers in our fax machine. I picked them up and they were requests for more information about our product. One of them had a note saying that they had seen our product in Byte magazine.
I dropped everything and ran to the store and bought Byte magazine. I saw the release of our product in the magazine, which included a photo. That changed the picture. It re-energized the company. We had a lot of people who were suddenly interested in the product. Two weeks later I was on a plane visiting 15 different potential customers. That really made a big difference for us.