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Once Upon a Time...
 

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There was a technology company called Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Does anyone remember them?

During it's headiest days back in 1987, DEC employed over 140,000 people. It's contributions to the technology revolution make a long list. I'll bullet point just a few:

- DEC started out making what it called "programmable data processors" (an archaic verson of the modern PC) back in the 50's. Each new version quickly morphed and expanded into high end computers for businesses. DEC wasn't really interested in personal computers for the individual. In fact, in 1977 (the same year Apple Computers incorporated and introduced the Apple II) co-founder Ken Olsen made the mother of all mulligan quotes in tech history claiming "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home". It's one of the few things that DEC got wrong in it's 30 or so year history.

- Programming languages C+ and Unix first ran on DEC computers.

- It's early database line called Rdb was sold off to another fledgling company in need of a core technology to build on and sell. You may have heard of it; that company was Oracle.

- DEC was argueably the first dot com; launching a corporate web site (of sorts) and registering its domain name (dec.com) back in 1985.

- DEC was the first to launch a fully developed search engine; Alta Vista.

- One of its last R&D projects in the mid-80's before it was acquired by Compaq was a funky little gizmo called a MP3 player. That one sat on the shelf for awhile.

Why am I telling you about all of this?

DEC ended up being a huge multi-national enterprise operating in dozens of countries. But it started where all businesses do; small and broke with a couple of ideas that might make money some day.

Back in the 50's and 60's, Wall Street didn't really believe in risking its money investing in tech start-ups. DEC was one of the first that caught a break.

Just nine years after launching it's little line of programable data processors that looked like they were made from a heath kit, DEC went public. It was taken public by Wall Street's oldest financial investment house; Lehman Brothers.

The IPO was a raging success and a door opened between Wall Street and Silicon Valley (although DEC was based in Massachusets) that would lead to thousands of high tech IPO's and gazillions of dollars in VC money helping out lots of techie startups for decades to come.

There's quite a bit of speculation how the crisis in the financial markets will impact both the tech industry and small businesses; less VC money, fewer mergers and acquistions, fewer IPO's, etc.

The MBA's can do a much better job walking you through all of that than I can. I'm a story teller. Let's hope this one has a hero or two that puts the markets back on track. There's much more at stake than $700 billion in tax payer's money, or even retirement portfolios and mortgages. Innovation stands to get knee-capped if some really smart people don't figure out a solution really soon. If that comes to a stand still, so does everything else.

Last updated: Sep 26, 2008




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