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The American Dream

``Conrad Hilton didn't make his fortune by building only one hotel and then opening a car wash. He may have had a car wash before he had a hotel, but once he found hotels and they succeeded, it was hotels, hotels, and more hotels. Did Ray Kroc who owned McDonald's start one hamburger stand and then open a dry cleaners? No. He had a winner, he stayed with it, and wealth was accumulated.''

Dr. Bruce Gould, ``How Fortunes are Made'', in Bruce Gould on Commodities (newsletter)

There are two ways to look at what we've done here. We're either an awfully lucky bunch of weirdos, or we're really on to something. With every passing month and every milestone we reach, the luck seems less likely and the strategy seems more astute.

Let's franchise it.

Franchise it? Well, not exactly, but here's the idea. We started out as a group of people with limited financial resources but a great pool of diverse talent and willingness to work hard. We built this company as opposed to going to work somewhere else because we felt that this was the best way to achieve the success we wanted to reward our exertions.

I don't think we were the only people in the world with these goals. Let's build ten, twenty, or fifty more Autodesks. How? By offering the same kind of partnership to entrepreneurial people that Marinchip offered to the founders of Autodesk. We publicise the following proposition:

You want to start a company? We know how to do it. Look at our results. Put together your group, count your money. Here's a set of information letters that tell you how to do it. Come to us with your proposal. We don't want a long business plan; you don't know what's going to happen any more than we did, and if you say you do you're a bullshit artist and aren't worth listening to.

We'll look at the people and the product ideas. Is there that sparkle you can see in the first 5 minutes? If we're believers, we'll match your investment dollar for dollar. In return we get 35% of the company, held as soft preferred which basically protects us against being ripped off, but we're in there with all the other founders. But it's the founders' company. Our investment in these companies will not be an expense on our balance sheet. The investment will purchase stock which will be carried as an asset. I'm not sure how often such illiquid assets get marked to market, but we can probably let it just sit there until we either write it off or begin to get proud of it.

Autodesk will provide limited support to the venture. We will see that the legal details are taken care of correctly and that the accounting is of public company quality. We'll provide a pool of talent to the management that has ``done it before''. We'll offer technical resources and the facilities of our lab on a sporadic basis. Our distribution channels, marketing and promotion resources, and our ability to promote products at shows and in publications at small marginal costs will be important resources to companies affiliated with us. Our manufacturing and shipping operations can provide those services at low costs per unit.

The founders of the new companies can choose to use our services, which will be billed at attractive rates, or to build their own or go outside--it's their company, career, and destiny. We will be providing what all the venture capitalists claimed they did, ``bringing more to the table than just money''. The only difference is that we really will.

Our goal is to give the founders of these new companies the same shot at success we had when we started. Autodesk will provide some cash that we sorely could have used, but not enough to mess things up, and the ongoing establishment the creation of which cost us so many critical hours we could have better spent elsewhere. We won't run the show, but we'll try to be there when we're needed. Many of these companies will probably fail, but if 20% work, they will contribute mightily to Autodesk's success.

Just imagine if we pull this off. I hope we always retain some of the rabble-rouser elements of our creation. I can think of nothing I'd like to do more than drain the talent out of these Silicon Valley companies that are screwing their key people and giving the equity to the venture capitalists. Instead, here will be Autodesk, with one face talking to security analysts and breaking new ground as the model for small public companies, and at the same time erecting a rickety, low-rent conglomerate built on talent and hard work, of hardscrabble start-up maniacs who, just once, want to do something right and own it.

I think that people would be well served to take the chance we'd be offering. They'll have to have real commitment, real performance, real responsibility, and real professionalism to make it. If they're interested in making that kind of commitment, we can't guarantee that they'll succeed, but we can guarantee that together we'll have a once in a lifetime experience as we try. (Working paper, 1/82, Page [Ref]).

Now putting this together will take some work. But how much, really? Let's think about it, and see if we can pull another sleeping shocker on the industry. Can you imagine, just imagine, ten companies, all loosely affiliated, working like Autodesk all at the same time. Why they'll say it's a movement.

And that's exactly what it will be.

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Editor: John Walker