How did I decide to base my first company on the development of an org chart program? Below is a condensed version of the story from my book, Bootstrap: Lessons Learned Building a Successful Company from Scratch.
During February and March of 1984, I decided that in order to do a bootstrap, my product needed to meet several important criteria:
I wanted it to be a unique, creative product first in its market niche.
I wanted it to create obvious value for the user by saving large quantities of time in an important task—a productivity product that the customer was waiting for someone to offer.
The product also had to be buildable in about one work year. I did not have enough money for anything more complex.
There were also market reasons to keep the product simple. The combination of rapid market changes, no competition, and high customer need would permit me the luxury of a minimalist product strategy. I could design an elegant, simple product, then ship it quickly. The objective was to include only features essential to the primary task of the software, ruthlessly excluding anything that was not a certain requirement of the target user. I would not need to worry about meeting the features of a competitor, because there would not be one. Then, I would aggressively and proactively obtain feedback from users to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the product. Following that, I would rapidly revise and ship a new version of the product, continuing this process indefinitely.
If instead I tried to develop a perfect, robust product, the risk grew that development time would exceed the validity of my original market insight. While vainly trying to create perfection, a competitor would come to market first, the customer would meet his needs in some other way, or I would bite off more than I could chew. My experience had taught me that it was far better to keep things simple.
Additionally, but unrelated to my bootstrap financing, I wanted the product to have high performance. Responsiveness and interactivity were key ingredients in making personal computers successful against larger, time-shared computers.
Although I have learned many requirements, advantages, and disadvantages of a bootstrap since the time I formulated these criteria, they form the core of my product thinking to this day.
Searching for product ideas, I looked at existing software made for both larger computers and smaller handheld calculators. The clear winner was a program to make office organization charts.
While I was at Hewlett-Packard, I had seen the need for an org chart program in several contexts. Hewlett-Packard used organization charts extensively, so I had firsthand knowledge of how and why someone produces such charts. I had even made them myself. Hewlett-Packard also produced a software and hardware product combination for creating box and line diagrams, with the resulting chart printed on a pen plotter. You had to manually place every box, word, and line, so it was slow, but the results looked very professional, much better than drawing by hand. Obviously, the product could make organization charts and that’s why many customers purchased it—in spite of a cost equal to about six months of an engineer’s salary.
To me, the number of customers purchasing Hewlett-Packard’s time-consuming, expensive package suggested a large, latent demand for a product to produce organization charts.
Because it would run on a customer’s existing personal computer hardware, my program would be ten times more cost-effective than any other solution, no matter how a customer evaluated the proposition. I knew that when choosing a tool, people often turn to the most familiar one even if it does a poor job. I needed to offer a solution that was ten times cheaper to counter this inertia. If my program offered superior results and dramatic cost-savings, then it would sell itself. Nothing less would suffice.
Below are many of the key documents from the early history of Org and Org Plus.
Version 1.0 (June 1985)
Version 1A (November 1985)
Version 3.0 (August 1987)
Org Plus Version 3.0 User’s Guide Fifth Edition(November 1987)
PC Computing Toolkit Review (October 1988)