An overview of Bushnell's tech businesses in the early 80's. Nice read; I knew he funded a lot of businesses, but didn't know the details.
"My idea was that I would fund [the businesses] with a key,” says Bushnell. “And the key would fit a lock in a building. In the building would be a desk and chair, and down the hall would be a Xerox machine. They would sign their name 35 times and the company would be incorporated."
Many of these microcompanies featured Bushnell as chief investor and chairman of the board, and several were staffed with Atari alumni such as Alan Alcorn, who spearheaded the technology behind a video game distribution company called Cumma. Joe Keenan and Gene Lipkin, both Atari veterans, also joined the effort. Such choices, which rewarded loyalty as much as skill, weren’t always perfect fits. But Bushnell’s charismatic nature had a way of roping in those around him to help him achieve his goals. Alcorn in particular served as a trusted sounding board for many of Bushnell’s ideas.
Aside from a familiar crew of Bushnell cronies, most of the Catalyst companies had another thing in common: They were almost unnaturally ahead of their time.
For example, a firm named Cinemavision pursued high-definition television and digital theater projection in the early 1980s. ACTV invented an interactive cable TV system for choosing camera angles for live broadcasts or playing quiz shows. ByVideo dealt with an early form of semi-online shopping: Users browsed items on a screen at a kiosk, served up by LaserDisc, and the machine reported purchases back to a central shipping warehouse via modem. Alcorn’s Cumma allowed electronic distribution of video games through rewritable cartridges programmed by special vending machines.
They also mention Androbot, Bushnell's pet robot project, which he wouldn't stop throwing money at.
As Bushnell sunk more of his dwindling fortune into Androbot, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Merrill Lynch offered to underwrite an Androbot public stock offering. If Catalyst could sell Androbot, Bushnell could get his money back and carry on as usual. But the plan hit a huge snag in the summer of 1983. “A week or two before the auction was to take place, the whole high-tech market collapsed,” recalls Calof. Merrill Lynch became skittish, having been burned by two or three IPOs of what they called “pre-revenue companies” in the recent past. So they withdrew the IPO, and Bushnell was devastated. “I was left high and dry,” he recalls.
So the crash was more than just video games? Interesting...
Ends with an examination of Bushnell's style, his influence on the tech-industry's culture, and a count of Catalyst's successes/failures.