Today was "get the car back in the garage day". Shutting down a company with 2,300 sq. ft. of space is a little different than packing up your desk after leaving a company. So we stored it in the garage. After much consolidation, it still needed to go somewhere. So we did the storage shell game, where you move stuff from the attic to the basement, and then the garage to the attic. If you do it right; when the music stops, the car fits in the garage again.
In the attic I came upon some boxes from when I worked at Zenith Data Systems as a product manager / strategist for the server group (this was after my PC Week days). In late 1992 / early 1993 I was working on the idea that network servers were way too hard to install and too expensive. So I got together some real smart engineers and we came up with some ideas. Then we talked to everyone we knew. And then some more. And then we had focus groups complete with one way mirrors and video cameras. And drinks and snacks with groups of IS managers in New York.
In January of 1994 we launched the first network appliance. I found this video (I shrank it to 9mb for the Internet) we made. Reading through the literature it had a whole lists of firsts:
- no monitor, no keyboard
- toolless computer
- plug & play all user installed hardware (cd roms, tape, disks, etc.)
- auto formated hard disks
- auto recovered from crashes while automatically restoring user's connection
- energy star server
- all biodegradable cardboard packing with corn starch plastic coverings
- 1/3 the cost of other servers
- 50% more margin than other computers
- made in the US with Union Labor which was cheaper than overseas
So the lesson here is talking and listening really do work. But make sure you talk to customers about their problems and not so much your idea. And while you're at it, look inside your own company and understand the internal needs. Don't be satisfied with killing two birds with one stone. Go for the whole flock.