Part 1: The FormalWare Co.
Happy 30th birthday to RootsMagic! Well, not RootsMagic the program, but RootsMagic the company. This month (October 14th to be exact), marks the 30th birthday of the company we now know as “RootsMagic”.
Like a lot of people, RootsMagic has gone through a number of names, moves and changes since 1986. With October being National Family History Month, I realized I have never put together a history of our company. Pretty hypocritical for a company that encourages people to document their own history. So let’s hop into a time machine and set the dial back to the mid 80’s.
Barely out of college, I finally had a “real job” as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley. Although most of my personal computer experience had been on my Apple II, I bit the bullet and bought an AT&T 6300 PC clone (which I still have in a downstairs closet, much to my wife’s chagrin). It had a massive 10MB hard drive that I knew would be impossible to ever fill up. But I still needed programming tools. At work I used C, Fortran and assembly language, but they were prohibitively expensive for a young married guy like me. I decided to take a chance on a brand new programming tool which had just come out called Turbo Pascal. At $49, it was an order of magnitude cheaper than anything else. Turns out it was also faster and more powerful than the other tools I had been working with.
I now had a computer and development tools, now all I needed was something to write. My previous attempt at writing a genealogy program for the Apple II left a bad taste in my mouth after I accidentally deleted all my source code with 2/3 of the program written. This was my initial introduction to “why backups are important”.
My first program turned out to be a shareware spreadsheet program called QubeCalc. Now QubeCalc wasn’t just any spreadsheet, it was a 3D spreadsheet. In my day job as an engineer I became aware of a couple of 3D spreadsheet programs, both developed by airplane companies (Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas). Both products were thousands of dollars, and I figured I could write one and sell it for under a hundred dollars. I spent many evenings and weekends working on this new project, and in September 1986 I had something I felt comfortable trying to sell. The only problem was I didn’t have a company to sell it.
Having never started a company before, I learned you don’t just say “Hey, I’m a company” (especially in California). So I registered my awesome business name (with the great logo of a floppy disk wearing a bow tie), and filed all the papers they required.
Little did I know that the next 30 years would bring the highest highs, the lowest lows, and the in-betweenest in-betweens.