It’s Not Just a Portable Computer

Compaq: Discovering they had more than they thought

One of the biggest success stories of the 1980’s was Compaq Computer. Founded in February 1982, Compaq went public the next year on sales of $111 million. By 1986, sales reached $329 million and they became part of the Fortune 500. In 1987, sales reached $1 billion, in an era when that was a lot of money.

9 inch screen, 128K RAM, 2 floppy drives, 30 lbs!

But that first year, 1982, Rod Canion spent a big part of his time on the road selling his product to computer shops and doing demos at computer user groups. Here’s a short clip from an 60-minute presentation he did at the Boston Computer Society:

Notice how much time he spent talking about the handles and the feet. He was a hardware engineer, justifiably proud of the design of his portable computer. As he explained recently, the team thought they had designed an elegant portable computer, but they learned that customers viewed it differently.

As Canion says, the difference is subtle.

  • What they thought they built: “A GREAT NEW PORTABLE COMPUTER, which runs your existing software.”
  • What dealers got excited about: “A portable computer that runs YOUR EXISTING SOFTWARE AND DATA.”

Thus the PC clone business was born. Customers know what they want.