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Building a Virtual Company to $20 Million: Rob Cheng, CEO of PC Pitstop (Part 2)

Posted on Sunday, Apr 14th 2019

Rob Cheng: I got to know Ted very well throughout that period of time. Ultimately, I introduced him to my friend in Colombia. They started to do business together. Another thing that happened that was very interesting was that Texas Instruments decided to go and stop the production of the PC.

I’ve become friends with people in Dallas. That created a lot of problems for our IT because the entire company was based on the TI PC. They’ve written a lot of custom software. Now they didn’t have any more TI PC’s.

My friend Ted had started this other company called Gateway Computers. He had this program where you could go and trade in your Texas Instruments computers for a Gateway computer. It was working great, except now you had this pile of Texas Instruments PC’s.

I said, “I got an idea. Let’s try to sell those all back to Texas Instruments because they need them.” We did that and I think he made a little over $100,000. That was what enabled him to go and fund his first national campaign with Byte Magazine.

Gateway’s tagline was, “Computers From Iowa?” It had all these cows superimposed on the computers. That worked out really well for him. Ultimately, I left Texas Instruments in Austin, Texas and I moved to South Dakota as Gateway’s first Director of Marketing. It was really cool how it all worked out.

Ted and I were really good friends. We were very profitable in Latin America for Texas Instruments. I made sure of that. The first thing he asked me to do, though, is to go and figure out our forecasting. He didn’t know but I’m very good at that because I had all that experience at Texas Instruments very early in my career. I put in all that stuff for Gateway.

I helped design a lot of Gateway’s computers. I got promoted a lot during that time. I ran Gateway Europe. We were expanding into Europe in 1996. I was Vice President of Engineering at one point. Then, I was Vice President of Desktop Group and then Vice President of Marketing. My last position was Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Support worldwide.

Sramana Mitra: What year does that bring us up to?

Rob Cheng: That brings us up to 1997.

Sramana Mitra: What happens in 1997?

Rob Cheng: I left Gateway in May of 1999. One of my bosses left in July of 1997. His name is Rick Snyder. He was the President of Gateway. He was living in Michigan, and I visited him in Michigan. He had started a venture capital firm.

I was helping him manage some of these companies that he had invested in. I took an interest in one of them. I had this light-bulb moment and said, “What if we went online?”

Back then, computers were very slow. Windows 98 was the operating system. It had a lot of problems with it. After that, Microsoft came out with Windows ME. That had even more problems with it.

This was the dawn of the internet age. What if we made an online place where people could diagnose their computer problems? I ran that by Rick. Rick helped me put together this company called PC Pitstop.

You could go and bring any computer to the website. It would give you a full diagnostic of your PC for free, and tell you everything that was wrong with it.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Building a Virtual Company to $20 Million: Rob Cheng, CEO of PC Pitstop
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