In 1986, Dawn DeBruyn formed her company, Concurrent Controls, based in South San Francisco, California, to develop software that allows multiple users to share the power and resources of a single computer. The company's first product, a multiuser DOS solution, met with fair success. But with the growing popularity of Microsoft Windows, DeBruyn knew it was time to change direction.
"The DOS market was going away," DeBruyn says. "We really needed a high-profile product to push us forward."
Like Concurrent Controls, many high-tech companies start out with a bang. But all too often, their moment in the spotlight is short-lived, and without new products or services to back up their original success, they quickly fade into obscurity.
"Building one great product just doesn't cut it," says William Stitt, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship of New Technological Ventures at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. "Many companies reach a fork in the road and need to follow up with a second or third product."
A new product from Microsoft finally catapulted DeBruyn's company forward: Windows 95. Unlike previous versions of the operating system, Windows 95 came with built-in multitasking features that allowed users to run several programs simultaneously. Concurrent Controls began developing Applica U2, a product that would harness those multitasking features to let a PC user with the Windows 95 (and now Windows 98) operating system share his or her computer with another user who has a second monitor and keyboard. "We knew Windows 95 would be a big success because of the marketing power of Microsoft," DeBruyn says. "We were convinced that if we could build [Applica U2], we'd have a unique product."
Concurrent Controls released Applica U2 in 1997, and more than 60,000 copies have been sold to date.
But the innovating didn't stop there. Last December, DeBruyn's company released Applica for TSE (Terminal Server Edition) for use in network computing environments, and it has a Windows NT version in the works. "You have to constantly be reinventing yourself," DeBruyn says. "It's all about natural progression."