Have Computer Will Travel

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Martin Hash
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Have Computer Will Travel

Post by Martin Hash » Tue Mar 06, 2018 4:09 am

The early days of my animation software business sound just like something out of a Hollywood story. In fact, a lot of it happened in Hollywood, where all peppy young bucks looking to make a name for themselves look to get famous. I'd left my first big company, Hewlett Packard, disillusioned with engineering. At that time I hadn't signed an Intellectual Rights agreement with HP, so anything I did on my own time was mine. I spent all my waking hours writing new-fangled, original, never-been-tried programs that would assist animators. Of course, now almost all animation is computer but I was on the first wave when computers had 16 meg of memory and ran at 8 megahertz. In fact, my specialty was writing programs that were “impossible” to run on computers of the day. I was so good I had a 15 year head start on the competition. This was good for me in the long run but it had the downside that at the beginning no one knew what I was suggesting, and if they did, they were too conservative to hire a twenty-something, overly enthusiastic kid to do it.
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That did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm & optimism though, and I sent dozens of letters to everybody I could think of, cold-calling, and had some remarkably bites. Picture in your mind a young guy who carried a full-sized computer where ever he'd go, always asking if there was anyplace to plug it in. I wore the exact same clothes every day: Levi 501s & a white dress shirt rolled up at the sleeves. I talked too fast, and laughed to loud. I had no one to help in those early days; I did everything myself, from writing the programs, to designing the packaging, to shipping all around the world. Hearing back from a customer was almost frightening.
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One day I got a letter from Bill Hanna's secretary. Hanna-Barbera was one of my hero companies; I watched all their cartoons as a kid. This was in the early 1980s, and Barbera was gone, and Hanna an old man still in the business almost out of spite. They'd given me a meeting time the next day, and I scurried around to get plane tickets there and back so I'd only have to take one day off of work. I was rushed, barely making the flight but appalled when I realized my my computer didn't make it into luggage! What was I going to do! Bill Hanna gave me 1 hour to demonstrate my software but I had to have software! Then, miraculously, the only time it ever happened even though I've been on literally 1000s of flights, the plane turned around for mechanical reasons. We were reassured by the pilot that it would only take a minute, everybody was wondering what was wrong, I was freaking out wondering if I should get off the plane, when looking out the plane window, I could see my computer being put into luggage while the entire plane full of passengers waited on the ground. The plane had apparently returned to the airport to pick up my computer! My mouth fell open; I wanted to yell for joy and tell everyone my good fortune but it dawned on me that nobody else on that plane would view it quite the same way, so I kept my hysterics to myself. I did smirk though.

I was shown into Bill Hanna's office just as he was going to lunch, and was alone in there for over an hour before he got back when I finally got a chance to show my demo. Everything worked but no one was impressed. In fact, that was the blueprint for the early years of my software development: I must have been a good pitch man to constantly drum up interest but it took a long time for the audience to see the potential of what I'd done? I was like a Hollywood door-to-door salesman, lugging my computer to show animation legend Phil Roman in his office at Film Roman, spending the night pitching in animation director Robert Taylor's house, selling my first gig to View Master. I really don't know when it changed from dream into reality, if it ever did?
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