The New York Times had a wonderful piece by Christopher Buckley today about his mother and father – you can read it here.
I enjoyed this on many levels, as a son and as a father. But it also brought back some great memories.
In 1987, I negotiated the sale of Newstar Software to MicroPro, and we made NewWord into WordStar. It was a big industry event, with lots of press coverage. If you’re curious, you can read John C. Dvorak’s account of the event here. At that time, WordStar was still the leading word processor.
In those days, computers were still relatively uncommon, and CP/M was still going strong, although MS-DOS was clearly going to be the winner. If you were a pioneer, your software and hardware choices were a big deal, and there was a lot of emotional baggage that accompanied your choice.
WordStar was a product that you either loved or hated. It had a large and devoted following, and William F Buckley was one of the most passionate followers. From a Time Magazine article: “I’m told there are better programs, but I’m also told there are better alphabets.” Vintage Buckley…
In fact, there was an informal WordStar user’s group that included Buckley, Christopher Lehman-Haupt (then book editor of the NY Times), and several other people at the Times. This wasn’t a secret; Buckley was very vocal about his love for WordStar, and it was covered in the press several times.
After the Newstar acquisition, MicroPro brought in some major marketing talent, which was spearheaded by Tom Keyser. The MicroPro people wanted to change the name of WordStar, because the staff thought the brand image was of an old fashioned, obsolete program. I had different ideas, and Tom did a brand personality study on WordStar – the only good market research I’ve ever seen in the software business. It was no surprise to find out that WordStar was perceived as the best word processor both by users and non-users.
Tom created a fantastic campaign: “Word Stars on WordStar.” And we got many famous people to stand up and sing the praises of the product in a mult-page ad. I can’t remember everyone now, but Buckley was one of our stars. Tom Wolfe was another, and Arthur C. Clark another. None of these stars received any compensation for lending us their personal brands.
I kept up with some of these stars for a while via MCI Mail, which predated Internet mail as we know it – and even AOL It was the first commercial email system, developed by Vinton Cerf and his crew. You got to MCI via dial-up modem, and the only thing you could do was write or read email. And there was NO spam in those days.
Buckley was a lot of fun – his emails always made me laugh. And I was always surprised at how bad his spelling was.
So that’s a little trip down memory lane for me. But since I like to keep these posts related to personal branding and job search, your take-away is that it’s actually surprisingly easy to get through to most people. And many of these people will enjoy the conversations if you have something interesting to say or can help them in some way. After all, famous people are people just like you and me!
One final note: I had a special code I had to use if I sent anything to Mr. Buckley by mail or FedEx – if I put it on the label, it would get past all the filters he had set up at the National Review. Guess he picked that up at the CIA. (I’d tell you the code, but then Christopher Buckley might have to kill me.)