Even though, as in Microcomputer Systems Corp.'s case, they may all make money while they last, not all market niches turn into pursuable business lines, and others may undo the best-laid plans. In 1976, MSC developed a voice synthesizer for an original equipment manufacturer and sold $100,000 worth of it -- to the sponsoring company before it went out of business. MSC couldn't find anyone else to sell the product to, so it simply shelved the technology. But had it caught on immediately, the nature of MSC's strategy was such that the small-computer subsystems specialist might well have become a different entity altogether. "The only way you can be at the right place at the right time," MSC's founder and chief executive officer, James S. Toreson, calculates, "is to play around the niche markets. We made money, that was the key. The reason we got away with it is because customers funded us up front. But if a customer had come in a couple of years ago and said, 'Look, I realize you know about disk controllers but could you get involved in some brain research for us?' and he gave us the money and a big-volume order, we'd probably have done brain research for him. Or heart transplants. And we'd have ended up in those businesses."
Jul 1, 1982