Posted by Paul Speer, Vice President and General Manager (Retired), Hewlett-Packard Imaging and Printing
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the introduction of HP’s first Deskjet printer. HP introduced several inkjet products dating back to 1984, but none ultimately achieved the commercial success of Deskjet and its successors.
Think back to 1988. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 2,168, the average car costs $10,400, gas is $0.91 per gallon, and the Hewlett Packard Deskjet is introduced at $995 under the advertising tagline of “Laser Quality for Under a Thousand Dollars” by a small group of individuals in a corner of a then much smaller HP. Being new and unproven, customers were not quite sure what to make of it, and internal to the company all of the business, technical, and social drama that you would expect of a group trying to do something that had never been done before was unfolding.
It is now 2008, Deskjet has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and over 240 million of you have experienced the product. For under $50 you can now purchase a Deskjet with levels of speed, print quality, color, and other features that could only have been imagined back in 1988. As an aside, in constant dollar terms that $995 would now be in the neighborhood of $1,700. Every time one of us pushes the print button we take for granted the amazingly complex orchestra of software, image science, electronics, mechanisms, and fluid systems directing thousands of nozzles to deliver picoliter scale drops of ink. Along the Deskjet journey printing expanded from conveying text based facts and figures to sharing personal stories and emotion through rich images; it grew from the language of business to the language of people. Finally, technology developed for the Deskjet line ultimately migrated to enable the breadth of inkjet printing products you see from HP today; home, office, commercial; and small mobile products up to large format graphics products capable of printing billboard sized images. Early internal debates of whether production capacity of thousands of units per month should be installed at a single location have evolved to a smoothly operating global supply chain routinely delivering millions of products per month from and to every corner of the planet.
So what’s the big deal? For those of you that have been around technology for more than a few years you know that the pace of change is breathtaking and with Darwinian stakes. Moore has made quite a name for himself describing industry and product lifecycles, and what it takes to succeed in each phase. Few products or companies have been able to distinguish themselves by participating as both an early entrant as well as a market leader over this period of time; Deskjet is among them. I’m a bit biased, but my personal belief is that when the history books are written the Deskjet story and its impact on how we all communicate with each other will be viewed on par with the contribution of a certain software firm in Redmond, WA and an iconic Cupertino, CA brand named after fruit. So how did this all happen?
This story actually starts with you, our valued customers. None of this would have happened without your willingness to purchase and use Deskjet products over all these years. Your trust in us to deliver on what we promised each and every day was the fuel for this story. Having completed a 26 year career at Hewlett Packard, most of which was spent in Manufacturing, R&D, and General Management in the Inkjet Product Group, I can tell you that the single greatest source of satisfaction was when we received recognition from you through positive customer surveys and subsequent market share. I still keep framed cover pages from at least one industry publication with a picture of that year’s Deskjet model voted to the top of their review list several years running. I can also say that the single greatest source of disappointment was whenever we fell short of your expectations, receiving poor reviews, calls to customer support lines, or letters of dissatisfaction. We took these seriously and worked very hard to rectify issues when we became aware of them and tried to get better with each and every product. Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive was definitely a part of our culture. It was not unusual to send teams to individual customer’s homes both in the US and abroad as part of the development process in order to make sure we fully understood how products were being used. While sometimes big corporations can come across as institutional, behind the company name there are real people that care and want to make a difference. I can tell you from personal experience that a lot of people put a lot of their lives’ passion and energy into bringing you Deskjet and making it the best it could be. Again, thank you for all your loyalty over all the years, and the untold pages and personal memories you have entrusted to us. For those of us who have been around for a while Deskjet’s success was both about its commercial success and an enormous source of personal pride.
From a more business oriented perspective those wiser than I have pointed to 5 important ingredients to this story. First, pull together the finest team possible together; infuse them with a monster big vision, a bit of self imposed fear of failure, and enough management “cover” to smooth the inevitable potholes and mountains in the road ahead. Second, take the time to truly understand what customer’s needs are, sometimes before they can recognize and name them. Third, provide a unique solution for their needs at an unmatched value. Fourth, set up a sustainable business model so that you will be around for the long term to be there for your customers. Fifth, constantly innovate, because if you are not moving forward you are moving backwards. These ingredients, I’d argue, when combined with some really hard working and dedicated people both in the original development team and ultimately the worldwide team that now designs and delivers Deskjet is the other half of the success story that started with you our customers.
While it is fun to reflect, and all of us who were a part of the Deskjet story over the past 20 years take a tremendous amount of pride in having been part of it, I am also reminded of the famous phrase “what have you done for me lately?” Stories like this are often not obvious without benefit of the lens of history, as they are the result of millions of daily events taking place between you as customers coming up with new ways to utilize technology, and HP employees working to bring unique and differentiating solutions to the market. What makes me most encouraged about the future for both you as customers, and the people that comprise HP is that the next Deskjet story is most likely under way as I write this blog. I’m excited to see what you both come up with in the next 20 years!
Thanks again to all you Deskjet customers, and congratulations to HP on the 20th anniversary.Opinions expressed here and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors, not of HP and may not have been reviewed in advance by HP.