In 1974-ish, my Dad launched a software startup that was fifteen years ahead of its time. Educational Research, Inc (ERI) was founded on the premise that every school desk ages K-12 would have a computer on them by 1980. The software they began developing was educational software for those ages, particularly in math and language.
As I spent time with my Dad yesterday, hanging out at the Lloyd Center Ice Skating Rink while my stepmom and sister went shopping, Dad related the stories of seeking investment for ERI. We were engaged in a dialogue about the challenges of finding and securing investors for my startup, Chalkboarder.com, today.
In 1974, my Dad was on the verge of closing a deal with Bell & Howell, worth millions. ERI set out to raise $1 million in investment. Several challenges impeded this and they were not able to secure it – not for lack of great idea or interest in their products. The factors that precluded investment included being located in the small town of Helena Montana and the economy at the time. Another significant factor was being very ahead of the curve in what the emergent technology was going to become – many potential investors were deeply wary about how widespread desktop PCs would be.
ERI built it’s software applications using the first computers from Radioshack and the very first IBM PCs. Techies who are old enough, will remember what we called the Trash 180, which used a cassette deck for memory. Memory then was measured in bytes, not gigabytes.
In yesterday’s conversation, my Dad related how the President of Bell & Howell called him five days before the contract was due. The President said – you’re not going to get the investment, are you? My Dad replied that no – he wasn’t. An offer from Bell & Howell emerged – to buy ERI out, retain my Dad as President and keep the operation in Montana as a subsidiary. Two days later, my Dad received a phone call from B&H, cancelling the offer – it turned out that that day Carl Icahn made an aggressive take-over of Bell & Howell and B&H pulled everything in to avoid the takeover.
While Chalkboarder.com is only seeking $20,000 in investment – the lessons from my Dad’s stories are valuable. Be patient – the emergent application of Social Media is not understood by many. Be persistent – being ahead of the game, while an advantage, is also fraught with much greater challenge. Be tenacious – never stop trying. Seek investment locally.
Thanks, Dad. Your story was reassuring.