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Ron Gruner 429
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Gruner: They said Fine. What they thought, I don t know. But we did go back to them about 4 months later, when we had a first draft of the business plan done. We worked very hard on that plan and then went out to San Francisco and pitched the idea to them. This was John Doerr. He had been there a few years at the time, but he was just really getting started in his career. Frank Caufield, Brook Byers, and Tom Perkins that whole crew. They liked the idea because they could draw analogies with Tandem Computer. They looked at our backgrounds, having been in the business, etc. So we were able to raise money from Kleiner Perkins. The first round, as I recall, was about $4.7 million, and back in those days, that was a lot of money for a first round of financing. They then introduced us to Hambrecht & Quist Bill Hambrecht and Venrock, which was the venture management arm of the Rockefeller family Peter Crisp in New York City. We were able to put together that consortium of three VCs in about 3 months. We closed in early October of 1982 and set up the board. Tom Perkins came on the board. Bill Hambrecht did not, but he liked to be able to observe. It all worked pretty well. We raised three additional rounds with those investors for a total of about $30 million. We kept it to those three investors, or some subset of those. As the game moved on, Hambrecht & Quist, being an investment banking house and, frankly, hoping to take us public someday, stepped up and took a larger share than Kleiner Perkins did, but they were all substantial investors. We announced the initial product in the summer of 1985. Livingston: Three years later Gruner: Yes. It took 3 years. We got financing in the fall of 82. It took 2 1/2 years
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to hire a development staff, design the computer, develop the software, and announce it. We shipped initial systems, which were not beta systems but were really production systems, in September of 85. So it was approaching 3 years. It was a complex task. And that consumed the better part of $30 million. The first year we did approaching $5 million dollars in revenue. Then the next year, in 86, we did about $30 million in revenue.
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Livingston: That s impressive. Gruner: Because it was hardware. We went public in December of 86. Morgan Stanley and Hambrecht & Quist took us public. That was a very positive experience. We found a lot of plain, simple wisdom from some of the venture capitalists we had particularly Tom Perkins. Tom was on our board. Even at that point he was quite wealthy, very successful. And he made almost every single board meeting. He had to make them in Boston by taking a red-eye from San Francisco to Boston, coming into a meeting at, say, 9:30 in the morning, going to a 4- to 5-hour typically boring board meeting, then flying back that night. And he was in his early 50s at that time. He always had great insights, and always tinged with a nice touch of humor, too.
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We had other great members of the board. We felt that most of the venture capital community added a lot of value also in terms of contacts, we were very positive about that. We grew very quickly, and at one point we had a market valuation of approaching half a billion dollars, about $450 to $475 million.
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Livingston: Wow. Gruner: That was back in the 80s. But then we absolutely hit the wall. Livingston: Why Gruner: A couple of things happened. We were significantly late on one of the
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next generations of our computers. You would think that high-performance computers designed out of the most advanced parallel processing technology, with a number of patents behind it, would be a highly differentiated product. In reality, it was just the opposite of that. High-performance computers are the ultimate commodity. The reason is that the customer comes in and says, Here s my benchmark; here s my program. Run this on your computer and tell me how long it takes to run. So they wind up buying a computer based on performance divided by dollars, megaflops per dollar. It s just like buying a tank of gas. When you miss a generation when you miss a major product cycle or you re late significantly, and the competition has caught up with you and they re providing performance that s better or the same as yours you re at a very significant loss because that s really all that matters. We were selling engineering or scientific computers. Ease of use, reliability, and all those things were small factors. The major factor was, How fast is your machine and what s it cost The other thing that affected us, that we just simply weren t smart enough to turn on a dime, was the workstation. It s a market that s disappeared now completely, but workstations were personal computers that sat on a desk of an engineer or scientist that they could use for computing rather than having to send their job to a centralized computer facility, run it, and then get the results back the next morning. Workstations began to really take off in the mid 80s. Sun Microsystems and Apollo Computer pioneered that. As that was coming, the personal computer was getting faster and faster all the time. So many of our large customers Bell Labs for example stopped buying the large computers like Vaxes and our kinds of machines and started buying workstations and personal computers. At the same time that was going on, the Cold War was coming to an end. Many of our customers were defense-related. Major customers were large intelligence agencies in the United States, for example, or other defenserelated applications. So that market dried up. Revenues turned down very steeply in the late 80s.
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Livingston: How did your investors react Gruner: We had a situation where a lot could be learned about the pros and
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cons of using venture capital. Things were going south quickly and badly. We at the board level had to make a decision as to what we should do. One part of the
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