Friday, April 4, 2008

Perseverance -- LaserJet style

Jim Hall, R&D Project Leader, at the 10th anniversary of HP's first Laser Printer (EPOC = Electronic Printing On Command): On December 7, 1980 (Boise, Idaho newspaper business item headline) – "HP introduced its first laser printer; the HP 2680 laser printing system. We were developing what we thought was really a breakthrough product. It was phenomenal in terms of what we could print. We had a poll in marketing on how many we’d sell the first month. The forecast was 75. Actual sales were zero. We also sold zero in January and February. Finally in March, Dan Schwartz sold our first trade unit to AAMC in Washington D.C. This was the struggling beginning of the laser printer revolution within HP"

The EPOC printer had a Canon engine under the hood, and it took the team more than five years to invent it after signing the Canon contract. To Canon’s dismay, the next solution used a Ricoh engine. The price dropped to $10,000, the size shrunk by eighty percent, and the development took only two and a half years – but the product proved unreliable. Jim Hall, HP’s redoubtable development manager, ruefully acknowledged years later that it too failed – “another failure. Two tries and two failures.”

After the failures, the Boise, Idaho management team had lost enthusiasm for this sector, reducing the development team to five engineers for the third try – which yielded a product called the HP 2686A, later retitled as the HP LaserJet. It was a stunning, and unexpected, success, turning into a product bigger by a factor of five than anything else in HP's 90 division line-up. It soon hit $1 billion revenue per year. It was so stunning, in fact, that HP forgot to acknowledge or celebrate it for five years, an almost unfathomable reaction.

Question: at YOUR company, how many times does the same project manager get to lead the third project in the same field after eight years of trial by fire on two failures in a row? "Trust me, THIS TIME I know what to do!"


dave davison said...

chuck - this was the most powerful story in your presentation at Media X on the Secret Sauce.

I think it would be great to provide a link in this blog posts to the video/audio archive of your talk so that blog readers can jump to the audio clip where they can see/hear you tell this story.

I think it would make the blog more interactive, more interesting and probably stimulate more conversation amongst your audience in the blogosphere than just telling the story in text form.

It could also be a great compliment to the published book.

chuck said...

Dave is referencing Slides 51 and 52, Labled "An Anecdote" in my "Secret Sauce" talk at Media X at Stanford on April 9, 2008. See

It was a great story, and there are multiple "sub=stories" as well