"Project Vampire” is about to fly
This will probably be the longest most heartfelt article I have ever written. I have been planning it for weeks and I wanted to be careful to break the news without forgetting anything. We didn’t tell our friends, we didn’t tell our staff, and we didn’t tell our family (other than our wives). Let’s just say this was the best kept secret in the industry, even those at the Inquirer hadn’t a clue what was going on (sorry guys).
We would really appreciate it if you read this article from front to back before asking questions or making comments – it’ll make our lives much easier so we don’t have to re-cap points.
Some time ago, after receiving an interesting offer “to take Voodoo to the next level”, my brother and I agreed that we would never simply take a check for the company. We also agreed that it would not make sense to go downstream to grow our brand like all of our competitors. Instead we chose to build Voodoo into something more meaningful because we both believed (and still do) in the brand and our vision regardless of what people on the outside thought. The teams within Voodoo also believe in our company – many of them have been here for years, some longer than my brother. Their enthusiasm for our products shows in the quality of their work. Our brand DNA flows throughout our entire organization and it is expressed in many ways.
I recently wrote a story about my previous discussions with Dell. In that story I made a suggestion that Dell was not on our strategic radar at the time – if not for Michael Dell contacting us we probably wouldn't have spoken.
Our first choice in strategic partners was actually another OEM who we believed was in a stronger position. We spoke to some Taiwanese based ODMs who were very interested in working with us, but we didn’t see a fit. We kept circling back to that particular OEM who we knew was a diamond mine of technology and intellectual property. It is a company that we feel has made some significant corporate changes for the better in recent months (even after we started speaking with them) – little did we know that their management team consisted of like-minded people.
The Tour de France
In July of last year, thanks to my good friend Morris, I flew to France to attend the Tour. It was Lance Armstrong’s last kick at the cat and we were going to take in a few stages while at the same time enjoy riding through the south of France with Trek Travel.
I went riding for a number of days with a group of people from all different walks of life, including some individuals from this OEM. I knew they would be there so I did whatever I could to get on the list. I had never (ever) ridden a road bike prior to arriving in Toulouse and the extent of my training was the 3 weeks prior where I spent training in a gym in Seattle. I hadn’t exercised in over three years so clearly I was determined to make it – or at least I would die trying.
I arrived in Toulouse and started to make introductions. I then met a guy by the name of John who was working for this company at the time. I had been speaking with him between catching my breath riding and playing it cool. It's hard to play it cool when I showed up with a brand new helmet, shoes, pedals and I didn’t know how to switch gears on a road bike. I was a total n00b.
I was relaying to him bits of our strategy, and how Voodoo could work with them. He seemed intrigued, but he said he was virtually powerless as the company was notoriously conservative. Little did I realize that the company was in a state of transition and was about to be turned on its head.
Letting the cat out of the bag
Even though you may not know it there is one thing about HP that makes them stand out among the rest: serious innovation. Backed by a $3.5+ billion dollar R&D budget, HP labs was generating an average of eleven unique patents a day. We’re not talking about “supply chain innovations” either; they are sitting on a treasure trove of product innovations with massive potential. For me, getting a ticket into HP Labs would be like Charlie getting a ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory. I was relentless... Yes, HP was/is the company that both my brother and I agreed is the perfect match for Voodoo.
It was only until the final tour stage there was an after party near the Champs-Elysees in Paris. There was a lady at the event by the name of Dana from HP’s marketing department (she’ll be pleasantly surprised when she reads this). I figured that was a good time to float some of our ideas and she seemed extremely receptive. She was very up front and honest as she told me of their challenges in gaming. She agreed that we should have further discussions with them. After I returned to Calgary we exchanged a few emails and things went silent.
…things were silent up until a couple of major ODM’s called, not to mention Michael Dell phoning on Remembrance Day. At that point we knew we were on the right track, but still my brother and I could only agree on one thing: We needed to finish our discussions with HP.
Assuming that they didn’t have much of a choice we speculated that Alienware would be acquired by Dell. After the speculation went public we thought it would make sense to get back in touch with HP. We figured Mark Hurd had almost a year to settle in and we were hoping for good things.
My opinions of Mark Hurd
My understanding of Mark Hurd based on the stories I’ve heard and read of him is that he is not your average leader; He is quick to make business decisions, but understated when it comes to "glory". There is a great story I heard that when Mark Hurd came on board he took down Carly’s pictures that hung in the front lobby of all HP buildings and left William Hewlett and David Packard’s pictures hanging saying, “This is really their company, I am just here to look after things for awhile.” Mark Hurd believes he is just another cog in the machine. He’s a bloody modest cog that's for damn sure. He gives full credit to HP’s current success to everyone around him (including Carly).
Much to our satisfaction, under Mark Hurd HP is a totally different company from a year ago. While there are mixed opinions, I believe Carly Fiona helped to create the groundwork for HP’s success today – but from the outside the organization seemed to lack operational efficiency. Mark Hurd brought with him a tornado of new blood and new culture into the company. From my point of view, Mark Hurd has turned HP’s corporate culture on its head and in the process transformed HP into an operationally excellent engine.
All it took was one email to Mr. Hurd with a short explanation of our strategy and all of the sudden the sea was parted and we had people contacting us. It was clear that Mark Hurd doesn't mess around. I’ll make some introductions later, but as I understand it Todd Bradley was immediately put on the case, and hours after assigning it to Paul Campbell he jokingly called Paul out in a meeting by saying “You’re late, what’s happening!” For those of you who don’t know, HP is broken up into various organizations and Todd Bradley is “the CEO” of the Personal Systems Group (PSG), one of three divisions at HP.
Some personal introductions to HP
There are some amazing people working at HP, many of whom I cannot introduce as it would take far too many pages. Without getting down into the details I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce some of the management we met along the way.
Over the past few months we have been in discussions with HP in order to figure out the best way to create a functionally symbiotic relationship.
Paul Campbell was the first person to get in contact with us. Paul was leading a gaming initiative within HP and quickly became an evangelist for Voodoo + HP . Paul may not admit it publicly but internally at HP he was key to driving this deal and breaking down barriers. Paul helped loosen people up to the idea of this relationship, so we were blown away to learn that he is a 20 year veteran at HP. Paul has seen the good and the bad, the thick and the thin, and he cited massive changes since Mark Hurd took over. Paul is a quintessential example of how HP’s corporate culture has changed under new management and surfaced some of its best talent.
Our first in-person meeting with Todd Bradley was a refreshing one to say the least. Todd Bradley is well respected in the industry, and he knows how to build a business and make it successful – When you get a chance, Google Todd Bradley and check out his resume.
To put this into perspective many people don’t realize that HP is the number one consumer PC company in the world. They are number one on consumer notebooks and number one on consumer desktops. Todd effectively runs a thirty billion+ business for HP. The day we met Todd he walked into the board room and propped himself up on the counter and spent some time with Ravi and I for an informal chat. Todd Bradley is a great speaker, he understands his business, and best of all - he surrounds himself with incredibly smart people.
We met Satjiv Chahil who previously served on Apple’s executive committee and is now the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for PSG. The first thing Satjiv did when he came into the boardroom was show us the new “Computer is Personal” videos. After the viewing and looking at some of the other marketing campaigns his team had been working on, both my brother and I were ready to get up and hug the man. (Ravi won’t admit it, but if you poke him enough he might ? )
We held our composure as he spoke and reeled us in even further. He told us of how some people commented that “Hewlett and Packard would be rolling in their graves if they saw this.” Satjiv’s response was something like this (edited for content) “Back in 1939 when William Hewlett and David Packard founded this company in a garage they were kicking ass – that’s what we strive to do today.”
Last but certainly not least is Phil McKinney, HP’s CTO for the PSG. Phil was one of the most influential people at HP behind this ground-breaking decision. Phil sat down with Ravi, Trevor and I individually in Calgary. Phil and I had an open discussion about our motivations. His motivations are mainly to effect significant and noticeable changes in the world as it relates to technology – He is not money motivated and that really hit home with me. Phil is a brilliant guy, if you get a chance to meet him you’ll understand what I’m saying. I am certain that we are going to work really well together.
Do you see where this is going? HP’s management team is comprised of a totally focused, forward thinking group of people. With a little bit of oil and elbow grease they are getting rid of the excess inefficiencies that the company has gained over the years. Under Mark Hurd and Todd Bradley HP is transforming into the most deadly PC company in the world. They also share a common goal with us at Voodoo.
Although on the IT side, HP is the #1 infrastructure provider for on-line gaming, it's no secret that HP’s familiarity with gaming PCs is limited so they saw value in the Voodoo brand and our team. We saw immense value in their scale, manufacturing expertise, leverage, buying power, and most of all INNOVATION. We both feel that it is important to maintain a veil of autonomy with the Voodoo brand while allowing us to plug our brand DNA into the HP gaming organization.
HP was founded on a heritage of innovation and invention. HP has many innovations that are just dying to see the light of day but until now many factors prevented them from bringing such products to market. If you’re attending the launch party in New York then you’ll see some preliminary concepts that HP had cooking in their labs (or should I say our labs now?).
HP is hungry for new innovations, and if you can imagine what plugging our corporate DNA into their labs would do – well, you get the picture. We are now in the position to create absolutely fantastic products in all categories. Voodoo and HP are complimentary opposites. This deadly combination of Voodoo’s gaming/luxury PC expertise and our brand DNA and influence, with HP’s innovations, scale, and leverage is going to lead to some of the most compelling machines money can buy.
With the help of a few good people at HP I will now be taking the position of Chief Technologist for the Gaming Division Worldwide. Ravi will take the position as the Director of Strategy & Marketing for the Gaming Division Worldwide. For what it’s worth the gaming division consists of VoodooPC and HP gaming products. We also have no intentions of leaving our home in Calgary.
Both Ravi and I will report to Phil McKinney.
Voodoo will remain in Calgary and we shall continue to create premium luxury machines with more levels of personalization, and more features than we currently offer. Our strategy for the HP gaming portfolio is yet to be revealed – but expect the unexpected. I will continue to write for CPU Magazine and Custom PC Magazine, and I will likely invite more people to help contribute to the blog. The bottom line: On behalf of Ravi, Trevor, Paul, Desmond, Angela, and the rest of the Voodoo team we are happy to report that HP has acquired Voodoo - and together – not separately - we are going to rock your world.
I told you that this would wind up being an interesting year.
- This is a deal about innovating our product line, not our supply chain.
- Voodoo and HP are working together, not separately, to make this acquisition successful.
- The fact that there is gaming business unit that answers to the CTO (FYI, a CTO who pulled himself out of retirement for this job) of PSG, rather than an accounting department, proves that this is a true testament to innovation.
- The fact that Ravi and I are taking senior roles in the gaming business proves that the Voodoo brand DNA will be integral to the entire worldwide gaming unit.
- Voodoo will remain in Calgary. Past customers, current customers, and future customers will receive the same or better level of experience, quality, and service.
- Voodoo now has the keys to a 3.5B R&D lab and under Rahul Sood we will be sure to leverage the kick-ass innovations that the PHD's within labs are conjuring up.
- As the Chief Technologist of worldwide gaming I will also sit on the R&D council at HP Personal Systems Group. You can expect to see our fingerprints on many of the product lines in other areas of Hewlett-Packard.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to add your comments and questions now.