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freedom. But they both had a vision of creating something great that people would love. That attitude from the three of us permeated the rest of the organization. And the organization functioned well. On top of it, we had a strong business model and good execution on the technology. We were actually profitable 18 months after we launched. We could have had all the technical talent and engineering know-how and business knowledge, but, if we were acting like Chinese fighting fish in a tank together, the whole company would have failed. And through those really difficult things that I told you about, where we were running out of money, when we got the certified letter of rejection from Sony all those different things I think would have easily knocked over a weaker triad. We persevered through all of it, and we never stopped. None of us ever doubted that we were going to succeed. And none of us ever stopped to question whether or not we trusted the other. We never had to look at our back. And that is what allowed WebTV to persevere.
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Cofounder,TiVo
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Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton founded TiVo in 1997. Their original plan was to create a network server for homes. Realizing it would be hard to explain to consumers why they needed one, they narrowed the idea down to one component of the original plan: the digital video recorder (DVR). The first version was launched in 1999. TiVo was ground-breaking in that it took all the information that existed on television and gave the viewers the power to manipulate it. With TiVo, you could skip commercials, pause live TV, schedule the recording of every episode of a series all the things one might expect to be able to do with data. But these new features sparked controversy in Hollywood. Networks worried about losing control over how people watched TV. By skillfully navigating the border between what s possible with technology and what television executives would tolerate, TiVo brought about a revolution in the way people watch TV. Like Google, its name became a verb. TiVo went public in 1999. Ramsay stepped down as CEO in 2003, but remained as chairman.
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Livingston: You came to the United States when you were in your mid-20s.
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What brought you here Had you planned to stay for as long as you have
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Ramsay: The reason I came was because I worked for HP. I joined HP right out of school. I was educated in Scotland, and they had a factory over there. Through good fortune, I got a chance to come over here with HP and check the place out, and loved it so much that my wife and I decided to come here. It was the mid- 70s and Britain was in bad shape. That was when there was 25 to 30 percent inflation; there were strikes everywhere. By today s standards, it was a complete mess. A lot of people, not just myself, were disillusioned. This was like Disneyland for technologists, so off we came. I had a great career with
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HP and kind of moved on from there. It was definitely the American looking for opportunity.
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Livingston: Wasn t the time around the start of the microcomputer revolution Ramsay: It was very early on. There were no PCs. The microprocessor idea had
just gotten going, and they were 4-bit microprocessors that was state of the art. Designs were all basically custom hardware designs, so it was very different. I was involved in chip design at that point. That felt like rocket science. That was the leading edge, and therefore it was the most exciting thing to work on. When I left HP in the early 80s, I went to a startup company called Convergent Technologies. They had been founded before the PC revolution that happened during the formative stage of the company. The idea of Convergent was to build a workstation. That notion of a CRT and a CPU and a keyboard was brand new. Computers were things that sat in rooms and had terminals, and this was completely self-contained. I thought that was really exciting. It was during that period that the IBM PC came out. I remember the entire company was run on an Apple II this thing that looks like a little wedge. Because it had to do all this stuff for the company, it got too hot and it had fans bristling out of it. By today s standards, it was pretty archaic, but it was also very exciting. People like Bill Gates were young kids then. A lot of the people who are now very famous were just young engineers that were trying to come up with a good idea. And they did. So the rest is history. We were definitely at the center of the universe, and that was fun. You felt like whatever you did, you had the best opportunity and you could go to the best places and work with the brightest people. They had energy and enthusiasm and they couldn t fail. There was nothing that was impossible. Culturally, in the UK, it was much more subdued; people were much more cautious. I was just back there, and I was looking at a bunch of venture firms and their portfolio companies. I was curious to see what s the attitude of a typical startup in Scotland compared to here. I found that they are just culturally a whole lot more conservative and cautious. And somewhat lacking in selfconfidence. You come over here and . . . I had a meeting recently with a couple of early 20-year-olds who have decided to drop out of Stanford because they got bored, and they are trying to raise money to fund their startup. They believe they can do it, and nothing s going to hold them back. They have confidence, they have that spirit, which I think is great and is probably unique to this part of the world. Being part of that for so long, for me, has been very invigorating.
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