Sramana Mitra: What were you doing at this point that got you to Kleiner Perkins?
Jon Hirschtick: I started when I was 24. I was probably 26 years old at this point. I didn’t know what I was doing. Part of being an entrepreneur is, you just keep doing things. You think a bit and do a lot.
My first company was this engineering sketch pad. It’s like a piece of a CAD system. Today in OnShape, it was just the sketcher. The analogy is, if a CAD system is a word processor, this would be a tool for making outlines.
Engineers are going to do calculations and sketching on the computer. I had this credential coming from the MIT CAD lab. I had a background in doing demonstrations that came from my background of doing magic. I knew how to present things a little bit. We had a demo. Then we got money.
Sramana Mitra: Did you have customers?
Jon Hirschtick: We had some customers. We had a lot of people who were very excited about it but very few conversions there. Customers were slow to come, but we did have some. In psychology, intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful. We had some customers and raised a couple rounds of venture from investors including Kleiner Perkins. Bill Gates visited us.
Sramana Mitra: What for?
Jon Hirschtick: One of the people on our Board was friends with Bill Gates, and Bill was in Boston. The guy on our Board said, “I told Bill Gates about your company. I’m going to bring him over.”
This is around 1989. Bill Gates shows up. We sit and talk for an hour or two. He liked our product. Even if John Doerr invests in you, and Bill Gates says you have a good product, you still need customers. It was really a struggle.
Then we ran out of money. I remember it was Tuesday. We had payroll on Friday and I didn’t have the money for the payroll yet. When it’s Tuesday and you don’t have the money for Friday’s payroll, you never forget that. I made the payroll.
We ended up selling the company in 1991 back to Computer Vision. I worked for Computer Vision for a couple of years.
Sramana Mitra: Did you make money off that deal?
Jon Hirschtick: I made a little money.
Sramana Mitra: I would say it was a great learning experience.
Jon Hirschtick: I don’t believe you’re a complete entrepreneur until you’ve been through a successful business and until you’ve been through a more challenging business. If you don’t carry both of those lessons in your DNA, you haven’t learned everything that you need to learn. You learn lessons by doing both.
I’ve seen people who have been on one or the other. It’s only when you see both and taste both that you’re in a better position to judge.