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Stupid Business Decisions: Corporate America Says "No" to Email


One major bank told a pioneering developer that Post-it notes would do just fine, thanks.

It's hard to imagine a life without email. We have a work account, several personal accounts, it's on our phones, and it has made snail mail virtually obsolete, but not so long ago some people thought the idea of email was a bit absurd.

Jack Grushcow, the founder of the Vancouver company Consumer Software, recently told Canada's Globe and Mail that in the late 1980s he had a particularly hard time convincing large billion-dollar corporations to buy and adopt his product, Network Courier -- one of the original iterations of email that allowed users to send messages through a local area network.

According to the Globe and Mail, the software developer remembers feeling "kind of beaten up" after a week of trying to sell his products. One bank executive, whom he tried to convince that email would be the next big thing, told him: "'Why would I use email? If I want to talk to Joe, I just stick a Post-it note on his door and he calls me.'"

While 3M's (MMM) Post-it notes were revolutionary, no one today would argue that the sticky little paper squares are equivalent to email.

Consumer Software developed the first version of Network Courier in 1983, but didn't get any major corporate customers until 1985 when the program was in its second edition. Even then, it took a great deal of convincing to land deals with major companies such as American Airlines (AMR) and Chevron (CVX) because personal computers were just becoming popular in the office. "My sales pitch was what we call 'singing to the choir,' " Grushcow tells Minyanville, "You cannot get somebody who doesn't get it to get it in the beginning; if you have to explain the concept to them about why they would want to use messaging, then you're wasting your time."

Network Courier was such a radical idea in the early days of its adoption that few people or companies had an easy time understanding it, including Microsoft (MSFT), which eventually bought Consumer Software in 1991 for a reported $20 million and adopted Network Courier to make its Outlook system.

At that time, Microsoft had very little competition and controlled 17% of the market share, according to a Software Magazine article. Meanwhile, ccMail (acquired by Lotus Development, an IBM (IBM) subsidiary, earlier in 1991) had a 23% share of the pie. The rest of the market was fragmented by other programs that never gained any traction.

Grushcow's struggle to find customers for Network Courier has plenty of parallels to what the entrepreneur is doing now at his current company, Linnaeus Plant Science. The company is using biotechnology to "develop castor oilseed crops that can substitute for petroleum-based products." Grushcow expects he has a long road ahead of him as he tries to convince people in the petrol-chemical business that innovation is necessary because the sector doesn't move quite as quickly as the software business.

"I'm completely confident. I expect to have hundreds of thousands of acres growing of the various crops we're developing and to be providing feedstocks to nylon and lubricant," said Grushcow. "No doubt about it. You have to buy into the vision."
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