When Chuck Colby set out to build a personal computer company, he knew he would need help. As a former Ampex Corp. executive, he had the necessary technical skills, but he lacked both cash and experience in the art of managing a start-up growth company. The venture capitalists he met had lots of money but little to offer in the way of expertise. So Colby went elsewhere.

One of the people he turned to was Al Hassler, a Swiss-educated engineer with a wealth of experience gained over the years as a top technologist at Memorex Corp. and as founder of International Memories Inc. (IMI), a highly profitable Silicon Valley disk-drive maker. Hassler agreed to serve as an unofficial godfather to Colby Computer, helping out in a variety of ways. Early on, for example, Colby had decided to have high-quality casings for his computers, some of which are intended for heavy-duty industrial and military use. It was Hassler who arranged for the frames to be produced at Western Diecasting Inc., a well-regarded local company, which agreed to accept stock in partial payment. As a result, Colby was able to reduce his start-up costs. Similarly, the man who paints the Colby microcomputers became a stockholder in the company.

Hassler also introduced Colby to attorney Michael Philips, from the prominent San Jose, Calif., law firm of Hopkins, Mitchell & Carley. Philips agreed to take Colby Computer on as a client, and to accept less than his usual fee during the early phases of the company's development. In addition, Hassler helped develop Colby's financial strategies.

Hassler's role will become increasingly important as Colby Computer reaches out for larger market share, going head-to-head against larger, better-financed organizations. Preparing for that challenge, Hassler has lined up various key erxecutives at other companies who are planning to join Colby Computer when the time is right. Some are already pitching in as part-time consultants.

"Al's given me everything that I could ever want from an investor," Colby says. "Getting him to go on board was one of the best moves I've made. It was like beating the venture guys at their own game."