Number One     Initial Public Offering

Prime Time

There was a feeling that as we became a public company and sought to expand the general awareness of our company and its products, we should retain a professional public relations firm. We hired “Primetime Publicity and Media Consulting Corporation”, whose president, Reed Trencher, arranged for a writer to meet with numerous people in the company to produce a company profile.

This is what we got instead. Monuments stand alone. No commentary is necessary other than to explain the typography. Comments I wrote on the original document are in type [like this]. Underlining and boxes around particularly trite and silly things were also my contemporaneous annotations. Footnotes were added at this writing. All of the misspellings were present in the original. Yes, they really did misspell the company name at every occurrence. Following this document is a memo I wrote expressing my reactions to this presentation of our company.


May 8, 1985

“We have large ears[Footnote] turned to what customers and dealers need,” says John Walker, President and Co-Founder of AutoDesk, Inc. “We make things people want”. It is this philosophy—functionally unique among software companies—that has propelled AutoDesk to become one of THE success stories of the computer age.

An overstatement? Consider that AutoDesk revenues went from $14,500 in an abbreviated 1982 year to $10,000,000 last year. They have already cornered the personal computer market with AutoCAD, their brilliant Computer-Assisted Design program. Chosen by an international panel of computer journalists as the “Technical/Scientific Software of the Year” in 1984, AutoCAD provides a virtually-limitless palate [Palette. Palate is part of your mouth.] of drafting and graphic design tools for “anyone who draws”. For the draftsperson, AutoCAD provides the freedom, scope, and power much like the way a word processor supports a pencil-pushing scribe.

Another AutoDesk breakthrough is price. The first hand-held calculator came out in 1961 at a cost of $29,000, while today more capabilities are available in a unit costing less than $20. [What does this have to do with anything? Second, I'm not aware of any handheld calculator on the market in 1961 at any price.] For under $10,000,you can buy AutoCad plus a state of the art IBM PC and equally powerful plotter, and you'll be getting a graphics design system that does 90% of what can be done on a main fram[Footnote] system costing $500,000. But these are only statistics:[Footnote] AutoDesk Incorporated are a group of people who have defied the “experts” and are now sitting on the crest of a wave that is sweeping in a new definition of business in America.

Their story is real, exciting, and challenging, like their roots: they are the Sixties Generation. After a decade of post-Vietnam invisibility, the new exemplars of the great entrepreneurial spirit are leading a shift in the way business will be done in the Nineties. That spirit is one of the most important reasons for the success of AutoDesk. No one says “We don't do things that way here”. One difference is that competition within AutoDesk is constructive instead of destructive. “There is one ego in the company,” said Director of Marketing Maryanne Zadfar, “the company itself. All of us are commited to each other and the company.”

Communications Manager Sandra Boulton likens their operating style to Japanese management techniques, in which everyone's ideas are considered. This enfranchisement of the individual is the heart of AutoDesk; it is the way their products are designed. This assures that the programmers have the freedom to produce in their areas of highest expertise. And in their own individual style. [This is a sentence?] Many [Come on] of the employees work at home, communicating by modem and telephone, coming in for weekly conferences. Each person works on a particular part of the program, and then only at the end are all the parts be pulled together.

For those AutoDesk employees who work at the office, headquarters is a new, light, airy, office building in Sausalito, minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, yards from San Francisco Bay, nurtured under the spiritual aegis of Mount Tamalpais [Oh come on!]. Those who do work at the office maintain their identities as personally as the established business community doesn't. [What the Hell does this mean?] Suits, regualtions, and titular respect have very little significance in the AutoDesk environment. It was this sort of unorthodoxy of style that stopped the venture capitalists from investing at the start-up. These “experts” asked about peoples' shoes, and questioned the length of their hair. They couldn't see that unorthodoxy—especially the people-consciousness—is the key to AutoDesk's flexibility. They could not understand that more important than structural formality was the enlistment of people who believe in themselves. [Utter bullshit. VC's don't care about this, they had wrong ideas about the business!]

The 106 who work at AutoDesk are individuals, [What is the alternative?] people who were likely considered rabble-rousers at least once in their lives. People whose attitudes are reflected in such traditional corporate heresies as “I don't like it” or “This doesn't make sense” or “There's a better way”. The policy at AutoDesk is that there are virtually no regulations; the employees are “part of the rock”. They all can buy stock in the privately-held company, so it's no wonder that “everyone is 100% behind every product that goes out the door”.

AutoDesk was founded in late 1982 by fifteen engineers who pooled their own money—all of $59,000—and personal integrity to produce software that is literally changing the way many industries do business. Thought[Footnote] computers have been used in drafting work for a number of years, it was basically only for those who had access to hundreds of thousands—indeed millions—of dollars of mainframe computer equipment. AutoCAD, the program responsible for the AutoDesk meteor, gave virtually the same tools to the owner of the every day personal computer for only $1,000. Individuals, small business, divisions of giant corporations all could make a quantum leap. [This was tired in 1950!]

In the personal computer industry for which so many had announced a premature death, AutoDesk has created such revolutionary software that it is actually forcing change [Oh wow!] in every industry that involves design, drafting, and drawing. Architects, engineers, contractors, electricians, mechanics, artists, doctors, soldiers, sailors, treasure hunters, teachers, firemen, landscapers, cinematographers, bobsledders, cooks, as well as designers of cars, stained glass windows, underwear, tennis shoes, sports cars, wheelchairs, contact lenses, bobsleds[Footnote] and the face of the new Statue of Liberty [Huh? I wasn't aware it was being redesigned?] have all used AutoDesk Inc. products. Many firms are being forced to computerize their operations in order to attract the top design school students. [I don't think that's how it works, folks.] Other firms are requiring applicants to have 1–2 years experience with AutoCAD, [Cite one example.] and the program has been out less than three years.

It's because the AutoCAD system is synonomous with productivity [Bullshit]. What used to take days can be done in hours. AutoCAD frees the designer from the drudgery of repetitive, mechanical chores. In laymen's terms, AutoCad draws, and edits drawings, on a computer screen. These drawings can be manipulated in all sorts of clever and designer-practical ways. Not only does AutoCAD save countless hours of the most boring aspects of design work, it increases the accuracy of the calculations and provides a range of user-customized options previously unavailable on a personal computer.

As powerful as the system is, AutoCAD is simple to learn; a drafter with no computer experience can be proficient with AutoCAD in two weeks. And because AutoCAD is compatible with the major management systems like Lotus, Symphony, and Framework,[Footnote] accurate and detailed design renderings can be integrated to support complex reports. AutoDesk also offers a variety of useful options to meet the particular needs of clients in their specific tasks and in the interface of their work with larger computer systems.

In addition to the extras offered by AutoDesk, the AutoCAD design system has already attracted more than 100 third-party software from outside sources to expand and customize the program for professions as diverse as theatrical lighting [wrong], land surveying, and hydraulic network analysis. So AutoDesk customers are not only pleased, they are enthusiastic. And with good reason: AutoDesk implements user suggestions in redesigning their programs. When AutoCAD was upgraded from version 1.4 to 2.0, the number of callers with questions dropped 95%. [Prove it.] Former AutoCAD user [Sounds like he abandoned it.] and now AutoDesk engineer Lance Kemp restates the company's theme: “we give what our end users want.”

AutoDesk is not a one product company. Originally, AutoDesk was the name of a program for a desk organizer written in 1982 along with a number of other software products. They [Who.] decided to put their resources behind AutoCAD. Will they try to resurrect the AutoDesk program? “We never look backwards.” says Marketing Director Zadfar. Indeed, AutoDesk has two major releases in the Summer of '85: 3D Level 1 and CAD/Camera. The 3 D is actually 2 1/2 D, a program for providing three dimensional visualization of a design using either hidden lines on a “wire frame” schematic.

Cad/camera allows a designer to enter existing diagrams [drawings] into the computer for editing and enhancement. This software breakthrough [Bullshit] means that the diagram on a piece of paper can be electronically translated into information that the computer can understand. Then with AutoCAD, the designer can manipulate the original image to whatever specifications s/he[Footnote] wants, combine it with other images, and then reproduce with unparalleled accuracy and detail. Instead of spending twenty-four hours hand-tracing every element of a schematic drawing, with CAD/camera the job can be done in two hours.

Integrity, intelligence, dedication—foundations in American history [Huh?]—are the resources of these people whom [Whom?] some labelled a bunch of left-over[Footnote] hippies. While they are not accepted by the establishment whose very structure and purpose they challenge, it is of little consequence [They sure as Hell better be before 2 July![Footnote]]. AutoDesk has combined the business acumen with social values, and creating a dynamic deeper than their impressive statistical bottom line [Huh? What? Is this a parody or what?]. One of their users, a 23-year-old quadriplegic, sent a note of deep appreciation to AutoDesk, explaining that he had “signed” the purchase agreement as best he could, with an “X” drawn with AutoCAD. [MAUDLIN! Do you have release & rights to this story?]

But as successful as AutoDesk has been with their graphics-design systems, they make it clear they are not a CAD company.[Footnote] Not shackled with hardware nor saddled with inventory, the people at AutoDesk have the ability to recognize a need, define the problem and create the solution. What comes next is being developed in the minds of bright and responsible individuals whose mutual badge is that they have accomplished what they were told couldn't be done. We might expect that what the Mustang was for Ford, AutoCAD will be for AutoDesk.

AutoDesk supplementary notes (5/2/85)

AutoDesk has thrown a scare into the design industry. Providing tools which translate into immense savings of time, money, and drudgery, [What will I do with all the drudgery I save?] AutoDesk is forcing drafters—architects, contracters, engineers, artists, and the like—to go electronic or they will be unable to compete.

The integrity of the AutoDesk operation is inherent in every operation: their advertising is completely—and proudly—truthful, and unlike many in the computer industry, AutoDesk reports its sales figures regularly and accurately.

Projected revenues for 1985 are $10,000,000. [Wrong! Furthermore,[Footnote] I don't think we're publishing any projections!]

AutoDesk has training centers around the country and in Europe. [Hein?] Their attitude is so contrary to the “sell-'n-see-'ya” indemic to the computer industry that they offer dealers a free program, simply for learning how to use the software.

Reply Time

The Primetime Article

John Walker — May 14, 1985 22:41

I grasp for adjectives and fail.

Is this how we want to present the company we have all worked so hard to build? A freak show which uses every hype word in the lexicon of the flack, or as a group of hard working people whose dedication to competence and quality have made a name for ourselves?

Let me list some of the pure bullshit words used in this odious document:

“functionally unique”, “THE success stories”, “brilliant”, “virtually limitless”, “breakthrough”, “state-of-the-art”, “sweeping in a new definition”, “exemplars of the great entrepreneurial spirit”, “Japanese Management techniques”, “new, light, airy office building”, “spiritual aegis”, “people-consciousness”, “literally changing the way many industries do business”, “Autodesk meteor”, “quantum leap”, “revolutionary”, “forcing change”, “synonymous with productivity”, “unparalleled accuracy”, “foundations in American history”, “combined business acumen with social values”, “dynamic much deeper than their…bottom line”.

I won't comment on the numerous egregious misstatements, gloss-overs, and misperceptions in this cowpie of a company profile. The overt illiteracy of the writing and slipshod editing is self-evident, but perhaps the centered, consciousness three, holistic well-being bubbleheads at whom this piffle is aimed are post-literate exemplars of the New Age.

Would anybody who was impressed by this execrable effigy of our efforts be a likely customer of AutoCAD? Would we even want them to know we existed? If they stormed the building, we might have to lay in a supply of reality gas.

How can we respect the public relations judgement of anybody who could read trenchant prose like this and then submit it to a client? And if it wasn't reviewed before submission, what are their standards?

After meditating in the spiritual aegis of Mount Tamalpais, I must render my verdict upon this brie-dripping bastardization of our brainwork. I hope my attitudes don't forever align me with those “traditional corporate heresies” we disdain when I say,

“I don't like it”.

Peter Barnett drew this representation of a street intersection based on a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) specification manual. This drawing, done on a pre-release version of AutoCAD 2.0, uncovered several bugs in object snap, which was first introduced in that release. It has since been used as a sample drawing and plotter test.

AutoCAD Highway drawing

Number One     Initial Public Offering