Posts Tagged ‘Digital Equipment’

In Memory of Ken Olsen

February 15, 2011

Ken Olsen, the cofounder of Digital Equipment Corp, died last week.

The story of Olsen and DEC formed the heart of my book Creative Capital. I’ve been meaning to get around to publishing a blog post explaining why Ken Olsen still matters.

In the meantime, here are some of the best links to obits and memorials of Olsen, who Fortune magazine in 1986 called “America’s Most Successful Entrepreneur.”

Ken Olsen, Who Built DEC Into a Power, Dies at 84 by Glenn Rifkin of The New York Times

Innovator’s Dilemma
by Steve Syre of The Boston GLobe.

Remembering Ken Olsen by Paul Kedrosky of Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Remembering Ken Olsen by Bruce Richardson

Ken Olsen Memorial by John Furrier of Silicon Angle

Obit by IDG News Service

Obit by Chris Mellor of Channel Register

Memorial by Robert Lenzner of Forbes

Obit by Gregory T. Huang of Xconomy

Memorial by Gordon Bell on Xconomy

Deadly sins the tech industry can’t seem to shake by Bill Snyder of Infoworld


Georges Doriot Still Making News

December 5, 2009

Georges Doriot, the founding father of the venture capital industry and subject of my book Creative Capital, continues to pop up in the news. On Dec. 1, in the Financial Times, Luke Johnson, founder of the British private equity firm Risk Capital Partners, wrote an editorial, “A call to arms for ex-soldiers in business,” about the unique role that the military has played, and continues to play, in spurring innovation.

Johnson credits Doriot as the pioneer of the VC industry and for forming the “link between the military and venture capital.” As I argue in my book, Doriot learned how to become a VC during the war when he was in charge of research and development in the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S Army.

As further proof of his theory, Johnson mentions a new book, Start-up Nation, which explores the role that the Israeli military and social networks and leadership training provided by Israel’s mandatory military and reserve service has helped foster a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in the middle of the world’s most chaotic region. (At one point I considered calling my book Start-up Nation, too!)

For Doriot’s singular efforts, he was promoted to the high rank of brigadier general and was received the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest U.S. military medal given to a noncombatant, as well as being decorated a Commander of the British Empire and awarded the French Legion of Honor.

Also, the New England Journal of Technology recently ran an interview with Leo Beranek, a cofounder of BBN Technologies, a landmark technology company that was a leader in computer networking and communications. The interview was done by MassTLC chairman Steve O’Leary and Mass High Tech editor E. Douglas Banks. Beranek was presented with the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council Commonwealth Award for lifetime achievement.

In the interview, Beranek is asked if he remembered Doriot. He replied:

“Venture capitalism really didn’t start until General Doriot came into the picture with the American Research and Development Corporation. But until then the banks were doing it. The banks were not taking any stock. They just lent you money, so they didn’t get to make any big profits from it.”

“Well, General Doriot was of course with the big venture capital firm, American Research and Development. He was very famous and very powerful because he was financing all these companies of which Digital Equipment is his most successful.”

And then he goes on to recount an amusing anecdote, which I never heard, about how Doriot threatened to sue BBN after they poached a star employee of one of the companies Doriot had invested in.

Innovation During a Downturn

July 21, 2009

Here’s an Adobe PDF of a charticle I created for this week’s issue of BusinessWeek. It’s titled, “Creative Beginnings in a Downturn” and highlights lessons from four companies that took advantage of bad times–Hewlett Packard, Digital Equipment, Genentech and Google–to improve their business.

Over the last six months, I’ve written about this issue a few times. But this chart provides a good encapsulation of the idea, as well adding some new information about Genentech and Digital Equipment–all in a easily digestible and handy chart form!

View this document on Scribd

Are VC Returns Unfairly Judged? Why Fred Wilson is a Great Host & Thoughts on Doriot Quote du Jour

June 3, 2008

For the last six days, Fred Wilson has been posting a Doriot Quote of the Day. It’s a new addiction of mine to see what quote Fred comes up with each day. He’s picked some of my favorites and surprised me some other times.

Like today, Fred quoted me! Here’s the snippet from Fred’s blog A VC:

“Thanks to Digital Equipment’s blockbuster IPO, ARD met Doriot’s goal of generating superior performance by producing a 17 percent rate of return during its twenty-one year history, a significantly better return than the 13 percent average of the Dow Jones index during the same period.”

This is not a Doriot quote either. In fact, it’s not a quote at all. Spencer Ante wrote this. The reason I posted this is that I think the expectations for venture capital have been skewed by several periods of strong returns (the late 90s in particular). Over the long haul, I think VC should produce high teens/low 20s returns after fees and carry. The 17 percent number that ARD delivered seems about right. You have to remember that 17 percent over twenty-one years is 23x the initial capital invested.

So far, the post has generated 13 comments.

One reader Mats Myrberg asked:
17% over 21 years is really an incredible record. If you take out the DEC IPO what does the record look like? Also is there historical data on VC funds (and managers) and their return rate to give this more context? This would be interesting data.

Good question, Mats. As Fred says, VC is a business based on the long ball. If you strip out DEC, ARD’s 25-year rate of return was 7.4%, according to a report by Patrick Liles that I sourced in the book. It’s 25-year rate of return was 14.7%.

Here are the rest of the return figures for ARD. As you can see, ARD reached its peak return as an independent firm in 1969 when it hit 17.9%. I bet if you held onto your portion of DEC shares, that return would have gone even higher, above 20%, because DEC continued its spectacular run for another 10 years.

1966 9.5%
1967 16.7% (this is the figure that Fred referenced in his original post, one year after the DEC IPO super-charged ARD’s portfolio)
1968 15.5%
1969 17.9%
1970 14.9%
1971 14.7%

One final thought: As the NYT review pointed out, Doriot’s “genius was to coax investors to wait through years of uncertainty.” Consider this: ARD did not generate a positive return on its original $3.5 million investment fund UNTIL ITS EIGHTH YEAR!!! And even then the return was a paltry 1.5%. It was not until 1959 that ARD started to generate returns in excess of 5%. And it never reached a double-digit return until 1967. So you gotta hit that home run to outperform the market.

BusinessWeek Online Publishes Web Video Interview About Me & Creative Capital

May 16, 2008

Hey folks, some more good news on the book front. My marketing juggernaut continues to chug along. Today, BusinessWeek Online published a video interview of me talking about my book and Georges Doriot. My colleague Catherine Holahan conducted the interview. Thanks BW!

In the interview, I talk about what inspired me to write the book, how World War II spurred the creation of venture capital, how Boston gave birth to the VC movement, the special relationship between Georges Doriot and DEC co-founder Ken Olsen, and the future of the VC industry. Hope you enjoy it.

BusinessWeek Runs Excerpt from Creative Capital

April 9, 2008

In this week’s issue of BusinessWeek, the magazine ran a feature-length excerpt from my book. The excerpt was snipped from Chapter 10, titled “The First Home Run.” In that chapter, I tell the story of the venture capital industry’s first blockbuster offering–the IPO of Digital Equipment Corp.

And thanks to the beauty of the Internet, ran an expanded version of the excerpt on our Web site. Here’s a link to the expanded version.

Valleywag Covers Creative Capital’s Launch Party

April 4, 2008

Nicholas Carlson, Valleywag’s NY-based correspondent, was nice enough to drop by my book launch party at the Royalton Hotel last night, along with photographer Elizabeth Borda.

Check out the party pics.

The book buzz seems to get gaining momentum. BusinessWeek is running an excerpt from the book in this week’s issue. Check out an expanded edition of the excerpt online. The excerpt shows how Doriot and American Research and Development orchestrated the venture industry’s first blockbuster stock offering: the IPO of Digital Equipment Corp.

One other upcoming hit: Scott Kirsner from The Boston Globe is writing a story about Creative Capital in this Sunday’s Business section. I am really excited to see the reaction to that story since Doriot lived and worked in Boston during his 60+ years in America.

VC’s First Home Run: Digital Equipment Corp.

January 4, 2008

Before the blockbuster success of Google, Netscape and Apple, there was the first high-tech home run of Digital Equipment Corporation–a story that forms the heart of my book. Below I’ve posted two photos from the archives of Ken Olsen at Gordon College. I am the first person to gain access to these archives.

In 1957, ARD gave $70,000 to the two, young MIT engineers who co-founded Digital—Kenneth P. Olsen and Harlan Anderson—in exchange for 70% of the start-up’s equity. Olsen, who was Digital’s president and undisputed leader, wanted to build smaller, cheaper, and easier-to-use computers that would challenge the glass-encased mainframes of IBM, the dominant computer manufacturer and only one making money. In this sense, DEC was a pre-cursor to the user-friendly machines later pioneered by Apple.

Olsen at ARD
[Ken Olsen at the annual meeting of ARD, surrounded by promotional booths of the other ARD portfolio companies.]

It was a perfect match. In Olsen, Doriot found the archetypal engineer-cum-entrepreneur who was dedicated to making his company a success. “A creative man merely has ideas; a resourceful man makes them practical,” said Doriot. “I look for the resourceful man.” Olsen embodied that ideal. In Doriot, Olsen found a comforting father figure always ready to offer words of encouragement or some bit of wisdom. The fates of these two men would be forever intertwined.

When ARD liquidated its stake in Digital in 1972, the company was worth more than $400 million—yielding a return on their original investment of more than 70,000%! It was the young venture capital industry’s first home run, and it helped make the Route 128 area outside Boston a technological mecca

DEC Board
[The DEC board was stocked with ARD staffers: (left to right) Henry W. Hoagland VP, ARD; John Barnard Jr. general counsel, Massachusetts Investors Trust; Jay W. Forrester, professor, MIT and ARD advisor; William H. Congleton, VP, ARD; Harlan E. Anderson, VP, Co-founder DEC; Kenneth H. Olsen, President, Co-founder DEC; Ms. Dorothy E. Rowe treasurer, ARD; Vernon R. Alden president Ohio University; Arnaud de Vitry, European Enterprise Development; Wayne P. Brobeck, former ARD staffer who became director of consumer relations, Vitro Corp. of America]

HOW TO BUY CREATIVE CAPITAL: To pre-order Creative Capital and get a 34% discount, click here and go to Amazon