Thursday, November 19, 2009

The HP 35 market research story

Ray Price was in town, and he was my guest at the Palo Alto Fellowship Forum. The guest speaker was Nils Nilsson, the fabled longtime leader of the SRI Artificial Intelligence Lab. And appropriately, several guests were in attendance, some of them old SRI types.

Just before I intro'd Ray, another member intro'd Roy Clay, who was HP's first software jock. He is featured in our book re the HP 2116, HP's first minicomputer (or instrument controller). I'd not met him; Ray conducted that interview. I stood, held up our new book, and mentioned Roy as well as intro'd Ray.

On my right, a fellow said, "oh, I met Bill Hewlett once". Asked the circumstance, he said, "I was at SRI, and he had a little balsa wood model of a handheld calculator, and he wanted some market research done. So I put together a plan, and some focus groups, and conducted them in San Francisco. Turns out, he wanted more than $200 for this thing, and everyone loved it but not at that price. So I wrote a "won't work" report." His name is Bill Waters, and I showed him our passage in the book that said, "Hewlett ignored the dismal market research report from the prestigious firm, SRI". We laughed together.

The product unalterably changed HP forever.

No comments: