Interesting History in the world of the personal computer – $2,000,000 Company into a $250,000 Company

Kerr: Take me back, I know you worked in the very first personal computer store in San Jose, California, The Byte Shop, how did you secure that position?
Bryan: That, actually, was a family connection that resulted in a paid internship. It was right place, right time, right moment in time and I just expressed an interest in doing it and it was a good match. I went in hardly knowing anything but it looked interesting. I had no idea the guys I was interacting with would so radically change the face of America.
Kerr: That was when you were in college, right? You took a term off from college or a year off or something?
Bryan: I went down to California to work for the summer.
Kerr: You worked for the legendary Paul Terrell right?
Bryan: Yes, Paul Terrell.
Kerr: The guy that bought the very first Apple computer.
Bryan: Yes he was developing a chain of stores. When I got there I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was sort of thrown into a very serious role just because I was ready and able. Incredible experience.
I was going to go work for the summer. It turned out I stayed for a year and we grew from just a handful of locations that were loosely associated to over fifty locations across the U.S. It was early days of computers where people were assembling their own. Still, it was where the Apple Ones were sold and launched, where Apple got its launch.
Numerous other companies evolved from that little computer shop. I learned a tremendous amount and made a lot of relationships. Those relationships have had a significant impact on my career.
Kerr: Wow. Tell me some of the people beside Steve Jobs that you interfaced with there. That people would know.
Bryan: Yeah, the two peers, I guess, we were all born in the same year, was Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. We were selling the original product, the ulterior micro processor system, that Gates and his partner had written. The ulterior basics later evolved into Microsoft.
Kerr: You also worked for Atari. Was that the next step?
Bryan: Actually, no. When I left Byte Shops, I acted on what seemed to be the responsible thing and finished my Engineering degree. Then I went to work for Xerox in the Bay area.
I helped design and configure the automated software systems computer controls in the manufacturing environment for our new factory that produced the Daisy Wheel printer.
From there I went to Atari which was going through this incredible growth phase from one to two billion in sales in one year. I made a big leap of transition out of manufacturing engineering into a small, internal startup company that was producing the software for Atari hardware.
The startup experience was pretty amazing. We did over fifty million dollars the first year. From just a zero start to pushing product into the large mass retailers in just seven months.
Kerr: Wow.
Bryan: That was Atari. I did a couple years but Atari went through its fortunes. Our little group produced tremendous profits but the rest of the company’s financial trouble was of historic proportion. The company eventually sold to a storied entrepreneur by the name of Jack Trumell. He was the founder of Commodore Computers back in the day.
Jack Trumell and his family bought Atari. I was part of a very small group who were asked to stay on. The next two years with them was just an amazing experience. I don’t expect I’ll ever go through it again, but when you take a two to two and a half billion dollar company and you, basically, turn almost all the the lights off, there’s a lot of things that you have to do that are really not like any other activity in business that you’ll ever do in your life.
Kerr: How many employees when it was two billion?
Bryan: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I know there were eighty vice presidents. That doesn’t include the senior and executive vice presidents, it’s just vice presidents. There were well in excess of twenty thousand employees.
Kerr: How many employees when Trumells bought it?
Bryan: When the Trumells bought it all of the manufacturing had been outsourced so there were five or six thousand employees.
Kerr: How many employees came with you when they took it over?
Bryan: Less than three hundred.
Kerr: Wow. Then, you continued on with them for two more years?
Bryan: I stayed for two years. I wasn’t offered an exit package, in fact, I had been given by the prior management an incentive to stay on because of the success of what I did with this whole software group, I’d been elevated. It was, kind of, elevating it to an upper deck in the Titanic, in some ways. I hung around and it turned out to be an amazing education. I worked directly with Jack Trumell. This was a gentlemen who was an Nazi Death Camp survivor. He had a really interesting take on how to deal with people and business. We turned the company around. It was pretty amazing. We launched another line of computers under the Atari brand. I had a role in finding the market segment for that computer line. It was just pure Networking, exploring and listening.
We launched the Atari FT line of computers. The market segment that I found was with musicians. It was a graphic interface much like an Apple Mac is now. It had power equal to any Macintosh produced at the time. It was more affordable and we had some enthusiast software development guys that had ported the Atari software onto the new generation. When I went out to explore, we were having a challenge getting back into the big retailers because there was a lot of bad blood from the collapse of Atari.
We were not meeting with great success. I went looking for other niche areas. I happened to find a guitar showcase down on Bastam Avenue in San Jose. I walked in the door and found out that they had a problem.

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