This Information Letter was written for the first Founders' Meeting. The Founders' Meeting was held at Dan Drake's house in Oakland not long after the public offering had been accomplished. It was an opportunity to review the path we had traveled and the challenges we might face next. I wrote this the night before the meeting, racing down to the Marinship office at midnight in search of references in my bookcase there.
by John Walker
Revision 2 -- Moon Day, 1985
``I resolved to make such an attempt at `clarification', fully realising that it would increase the size of the pamphlet and delay its publication; I saw no other way of meeting my pledge I had made in the article ``Where To Begin''. Thus, to the apologies for the delay, I must add others for the serious literary shortcomings of the pamphlet. I had to work in great haste, with frequent interruptions by a variety of other tasks.''
V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done, 1902
We did it.
In January, 1982 we got together and decided to build a software company which would become an industry leader. We agreed that our goal was to build a large, conventional, tightly-coupled company which provided all the services needed to become an industry leader. We all committed a major component of our time, and put at risk a substantial portion of our financial assets.
Today, Autodesk is one of the leading software companies in the world. Our goal was to build a company which would be one of the top five. By Mike Ford's analysis of the SoftLetter 100, discounting game companies and people who have collapsed since the list was published, we are about number seven today. Autodesk has joined the elite world of public companies, placing it with Lotus, Ashton-Tate, Software Publishing, and Micro-Pro in the top 5 visible players in the microcomputer software industry as seen by the financial world. (And don't discount the value of this: a public company gets press coverage as a matter of course that a private company can't buy at any price. Also, public companies are perceived as more solid citizens with more staying power in a competitive situation.)
We agreed to do it right and do it fast. We did both. Name the companies which have moved from start up to public companies in three years. That's a pretty select list to start with. Now look at the ones who have done it with no venture capital, with the original founders still in control, and with not even an outside director at the time of the public offering. You're down to a pretty damn short list. Now filter for the companies with their principles intact: who still believe and practice consistently rewarding the people who do the work, of getting the best people and cutting them in on the pie in a real sense.
So what we've pulled off here is, if not unique, awfully rare in the contemporary business world. This is a good time to reflect on what we've done and to look at how we can best apply the techniques that got us this far to the difficult task in getting to the next plateau.
Editor: John Walker