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Books: Autodesk revealed.

The great unsolved mystery about Autodesk, of course, is how the software industry's fifth largest company (1988 sales: $117 million) manages to keep such a low profile. in the CAD market, Autodesk has built a market position that rivals Lotus's hold on spreadsheet sales. Business Week has twice named Autodesk the "Number One Hot Growth Company in America." But how many industry insiders even know the names of any of Autodesk's founders or top executives?

The fact is, Autodesk has always had a fascinating story to tell. Founded in 1982 by 16 would-be entrepreneurs (mostly programmers moonlighting from regular jobs) who kicked in $59,030 in working capital, the company bootatrapped its way to Wall Street without a dime of venture capital. Success hasn't produced many swelled heads at Autodesk, however; co-founder John Walker still sums up the company's philosophy in three sentences: "Make the best product. No bullshit. Reward the people that do the work."

But what really went on in the ramshackle headquarters in Sausalito? Walker--who served as president and chairman until last year, when he went back to full-time programming--has now provided a remarkably candid look at Autodesk's history in "The Autodesk File," a chronicle of events that starts with Walker's first business plan and ends with a company that is trying to build the groundwork for even greater growth without abandoning its "hard-scrabble, hungry rat" roots. Walker hasn't written the usual junk-food executive memoirs, full of nuggets of popular wisdom and cute anecdotes. Rather, he has literally unlocked the company's filing cabinets and assembled a collection of original sources--internal memos, logs, speeches, engineering notes, etc. (This literary process works surprisingly well, largely because Walker himself was a prolific writer who regularly sent 'information letters" to his partners and employees.)

Still, there are more than enough nuggets. walker shows us the proposals and counterproposals that passed between the company and a prospective investor (who ultimately got cold feet, thereby losing a chance to turn $500,000 into $37 million three years later). We get to see marked-up copies of "airhead' advertising copy that Autodesk wisely rejected. We watch internal debates over product design, programming tools, and scheduling snafus. And, in a spirit of true confession, Walker even shows us samples of demo drawings that faked features Autodesk hadn't quite figured out how to implement.

We don't usually plug books, but "The Autodesk File" says so much about managing a software business that we'd hate for it to become as invisible as Walker's own company often is. Forget the rest of the summer reading list; this is the book that belongs at the top of the pile.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Soft-letter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Soft-Letter
Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Jun 15, 1989
Words:439
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