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second-generation product, that had sufficient differentiation that was immediately visible when you demoed it, and that was what gave it its market entr e. Being at the right place at the right time also helped. The business world was poised to adopt personal computers. They were reasonably priced and they did something useful, which turned out to be Lotus 1-2-3. So the market just expanded dramatically, far faster than anything any of us in the company would have imagined.
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Livingston: When you demoed it, were there parts where you knew people
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Kapor: Yes, I think the one-button graphing in particular, and the speed of the
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calculation. VisiCalc users loved VisiCalc; they just wanted it to do more. And it didn t. And when we showed that this did it right out of the box, they went, I get it. I used to get applause doing demos all the time. This was all so new then, in a way that was recapitulated in the early days of Netscape, the first time people saw a web browser, web content; the first time people looked at Amazon. So we had our version of that in the 80s.
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Livingston: I read you spent 10 months programming it. Did you program it Kapor: No, Sachs did. He wrote virtually all of the code of the original version.
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We came out with it in January 83. He started working on that code base probably in October of 81, so that would be 14 to 15 months. All written in assembly language, for speed. This was the fifth time he d implemented a spreadsheet, so he was pretty good at it at this point.
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Livingston: Wasn t VisiCalc written in assembly language too Why was Lotus
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Kapor: Because they were writing for an 8-bit machine, and they didn t take
advantage of the 16-bit architecture in a whole variety of different respects. We just had more optimized code. And we had a different recalculation algorithm. We were the first spreadsheet to do something called natural order of recalculation. If your spreadsheet had forward references in it, VisiCalc would take multiple passes over the whole thing to calculate stuff, but we did one pass through the entire formula chain, and as long as there weren t circular references, it would calculate properly. So it was much faster for certain cases.
Livingston: Was the code tuned to the IBM machine Kapor: It was tuned to the Intel 808X 16-bit architecture. And Sachs was also very, very good. He was just an artist at high performance with limited resources. I didn t know how good he was; I got lucky. I knew he was good, but he was a genius at this sort of stuff. The two of us together was essentially 1 + 1 = 3, because I had a vision about the product and very strong ideas about the feature set and the user interface, and he was generally willing to let me drive things at that level. He had the responsibility for the technical architecture and implementation, but I m actually quite technical, so I was able to talk with him to fully understand a number of the issues and limitations and modify the design in a way that was consistent with what we could actually do. So we had a critical mass of knowledge between the two of us that neither of us had alone.
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Livingston: What went wrong Kapor: A number of things went wrong or almost went wrong. I almost ran out
of money. Lotus 1-2-3 wasn t the only idea that we had. I had done this thing with some other people called Executive Briefing System for the Apple II that was like a precursor to PowerPoint. We did some other projects; I had hired another group of people and basically had spent down the $300,000 that I d allocated. It was almost gone and we were nowhere near product, because of doing all these other things and not having done this before. I had $600,000 after taxes and paying my partner, and I divided it into two piles. I took half and said I m going to buy a house. It was $89,000, the least expensive house in Cambridge this was in 1981. I said that I could live on $40,000 for at least 5 years. So I had the other $300,000 that was my own seed money, but I almost ran out. I got lucky in that Ben Rosen at Sevin Rosen decided to invest. He was the only VC that I pitched (I didn t understand anything about venture capital). And that was fortunate, because without him, I don t know what we would have done. Most of my mistakes came after we launched the product, not before after we started shipping in January of 83. I had no significant experience in building an organization or building a management team. And I intuitively did well when I was leading the whole team, but once we got past 25 people, you can t do that. And so I made a series of classic mistakes in hiring. And not building a good middle management structure. And not recruiting a board that could help me build the company. Big mistakes in picking a successor, big mistakes in having an undisciplined product strategy I was much more interested in having distinctive, innovative products and thinking about what would make sense for a product line for our business overall and big mistakes in expanding too fast and not having discipline about what we were doing. So I give myself a C or C on all that stuff.
Livingston: You guys grew to 1,000 employees before you went public. Did you know you were going to go public when you started Kapor: I didn t know when, but this was what I d learned from my time in
Silicon Valley. To be honest, here s what I was driven by: I wanted to do really a great product. Almost from day one I understood that I was passionate about the applications themselves, that they d be integrated, easier to use and be powerful. They d help make people more productive and I cared a lot about that. The other thing I wanted was financial independence. I had an enormous desire not to be dependent on other people, or to have to have a job. I wanted to dictate the terms. So I knew if you had an IPO, then you had a liquid currency and you had the ability to cash in and get that. So I actually pushed for an early IPO, which we did successfully. But that brought all the usual problems. The main problem we had as a very young public company was that people did not understand the industry or its dynamics and therefore they consistently misvalued the stock and misunderstood what it was about. Because it was new and it was different. Eventually, people figured it out, but I was very impatient.
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