My dad @richard8081 opened a computer rental business, Frog's Rent-a-Computer, in 1983. "It was very exciting. People just came in. Marketing was paying to put up fliers on phone poles. That and yellow pages, and gaming that, like figuring out how to make your listing bold.
Everybody rented from Frog's. Kaiser, they had so many machines on long term rental and they paid like a bank. Used them for budget analysis. Anything that would run Word Perfect. Law firms were also the best customers.
"I had a trucking business and used the same premises. I had 10 acres rented from UC Berkeley for that. Didn't need hardly any room for computer rental, computers are small. Straightforward investment, just buy the machines.
"I would rent trailers. I took the trailer rental form, changed some of the words, like changed 'trailer' to 'computer'. Fuck the insurance, computers weren't going to do any damage to anybody.
"I learned, don't rent it if they don't have a physical credit card. Even PG&E. Every time I departed from that policy, it got stolen.
"KayPro first, on CPM, people would rent those. Everybody who rented got 30 min lesson. It was all new. Nobody said no to the lesson. 'If you didn't save, you're gonna lose it. Gotta backup to the floppy disk.' And how to print.
"Printers predated PCs. Everybody needed to print. Printers were high output so the phycists could print output of computer runs. Those didn't have screens, that's why printers important. So there was truckloads of trash.
"UC Berkeley kept part of the lot I rented for recycling. Most of the paper was from the 'physics department', i.e. the rad-lab, i.e. nuclear weapons design factory.
"All the printouts were one-sided, so I could go down to the end of the block and get paper to write my screenplays on. I noticed that the other side was the latest physics and computer science research. Fascinating. I started reading all of it.
"1984 came along real quick. WordStar, DataStar, CalcStar! In '84, the Macintosh came out. IBM compatible but not capable of performing any task. All they did was ask for a new disk to be inserted. Then machines came out with 1mb instead of 5k. Then external hard drives.
"And networking. Was so new, revolutionary. 1986, 87, internet came along. Prodigy worked well. Bulletin boards came equipped with trolls and flamers. Useless. People would rent computers to do email. You'd have to explain to them what email was.
"Fonts were like, wow. But maybe printing was a dead end? Like we don't print much now. And you couldn't possibly read all research they'd print. People just wanted it to look like what typewriters produced. Especially the lawyers.
"Pixar was an excellent customer. Pixar Tech Center 1. They had just transitioned from George Lucas in San Rafael, to Point Richmond. This was the era of, like, the lamps short.
"One time, they asked me, why don't you come over, we'll show you around. Render farm. Machines sitting in the dark, rendering the pixels. Then they went away as a customer, they outgrew Frog's, once they had more computers than Frog's.
"Once someone came in, put laptop on the table. He wanted to sell it to me. Seemed sus and he knew it and he said, 'I'm gonna level with you, I'm a thief'. It was a Compaq, new. I took a look and it had Lotus123. I opened up Lotus123 and showed him how to do 1+1=2, 2*2=4.
"That was all I knew how to do. I said 'Son, I want to tell you something. Imma level with you, if you learn everything about this program, you walk into any business, say I know 123, they'll give you a job, a good job.'
"He came back to see me a while later, just said, 'I want to thank you'. In a brand new Porsche.
"The high point of Frog's was having shelves of Toshiba laptops and Powerbooks. Because all that stuff was automated. Every time a computer came back we would have to wipe it and it took so long, so many steps. But with the new laptops it was a few clicks.
"I could see the long horizon that computer rental business would become obsolete over time. I had been in only two businesses before, trucking and computer rental. Trucking business has its own horizon for a guy. It eats you up.
"Frog's was always profitable (and in the end I sold the building for the real profit)."
You can follow @jasonkatzbrown.
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