In the latest edition of CPU Magazine I wrote an article about the history of Voodoo. One could easily could write a book on this subject - there are so many cool stories. That said, it's near and dear to my heart and something I'd like to share with you all. ...and once again, if you haven't subscribed to CPU Magazine yet, do yourself a favor and subscribe now!
As I’m sure my peers can attest, I receive countless emails from people asking how I got started in this business. This month I thought I would share some of our humble beginnings, some cool stories, and a bit on how we set off in our current direction. I do so in the hopes that after you read this, some of you may feel inspired to go do something you love, either within your organization or on your own.
Shortly after graduating from high school in 1991, I enrolled at Mount Royal College in Calgary. Three months in I realized that the computer science courses were lacking in substance. For me, learning WordPerfect for DOS as a prerequisite was not inspiring. I was also attempting to take some marketing courses, but my marketing professor was a bit of a jerk.
I remember it like it was yesterday: I was quite bored after high school, and sometimes I would roll out of bed at 11 a.m. with no desire to go to class. Luckily, my fiancé inspired me to take a major risk—I started Voodoo with $1,500 on a credit card and an $85 ad in the newspaper. After selling eight computers in my first week, I simply stopped showing up to classes. I didn’t even bother to drop out.
After a year or so, we landed a successful workstation contract with a large marketing company. I then acquired a heritage home more than a century old in downtown Calgary with a small shed in the back. We renovated the site and restored the old character of the building. We ripped the old kitchen out and built a new manufacturing space which we coined the “Quote Kitchen.” Even though we had to cram way too many people into our old 900 square-foot house, it was an incredibly cool place to work.
The guys at Voodoo would hang out together and play games until the wee hours of the morning. It started with games like Wing Commander, and as the years went on a new game called Command & Conquer took over.
We even had an official Command & Conquer trophy called “The Champeen.” The minute the last customer left the building each day we would lock the doors and the tournaments would begin. It was an unbelievable culture really; we spent the days working and servicing customers, and during the downtime we would play the stupid game. The winner of each competition claimed temporary ownership of The Champeen and the right to talk as much smack as he liked.
Every once in a while something would come along and tear us away from C&C, like the Friday when one of our techs built a potato launcher out of some leftover PVC pipe and rough materials we had kicking around the tech shop. My wife was working as a hairdresser, so after work we went to my house and raided her cabinet for hairspray to ignite the launcher. Then about 9 p.m. we grabbed a bag of potatoes from the local grocery store.
We started on the driveway, launching potatoes 500 yards across the street into the fence. It sounded like a bazooka, and what started as an experiment ended up being a giggle fest with half a bag of potatoes splattered all over the place. Then we then went downstairs to play some games for a couple of hours, until all of the sudden there was banging at the door, and the phone was ringing. It was the police.
The police requested that all of us exit the house with our hands up. They asked if we were shooting something downstairs but we explained that they were just hearing a video game. My wife, bless her, is the most understanding person in the world. She was the last to leave the house, and as she walked outside with her housecoat on and her hands up, the officer outside looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Man, you’re gonna be in the doghouse for a long time.”
In the end, the police merely had a good laugh and confiscated the potato launcher, but like many others, that day has become legend at Voodoo.
Over the years we built some lifelong friendships, and a camaraderie that’s impossible to explain. Many of the people who worked at Voodoo during the early days moved on, and some of them are more successful than we could ever have dreamed. I often hear people say their days at Voodoo were some of the best days they ever had, and certainly the most fun.
Voodoo has always been an inspiring place to work, but things weren’t always easy. Shortly after 1999 my brother joined the team to help us get to the next level. Things were out of control and at the time I was the go-to guy for everything. Having Ravi on board allowed us to focus on what we loved best, building a better machine. We slowly acquired a well rounded core team to bring focus to the brand. Eventually we acquired the entire corner of our block, which included a second house.
We like to think that Voodoo was built on a foundation of excellence, albeit not without challenges. Over the years we earned countless awards throughout the industry. We were pioneers, and we built a heritage like few other performance PC manufacturers in the world. Companies like Falcon Northwest and Alienware were always on our radar, and they always kept us on our game.
I probably speak for everyone at Voodoo when I say that I love Voodoo, I love the brand, I love the team like family, I love the machines, and I love my customers. I am so passionate about this company and the brand that in 2005 I tattooed the Voodoo logo on my leg. Voodoo is our baby.
In late 2004 we realized that there was a ceiling to our growth. More competitors started to jump into the space, and even though we felt we offered some advantages, we couldn’t ignore them.
We reached a point where it became a challenge to innovate based on our volumes. Even though we were first to market with certain technologies, vendors would eventually make them available to everyone in order to facilitate volume. We could either follow our competition by going downstream and increasing our volume, or we needed to come up with another strategy to innovate. Thus it made sense for us to partner with a larger company.
I have been a small-business guy since 1991, and as you all know in 2006 Voodoo was acquired by HP. If you have had a chance to read my blog you’ll know that prior to partnering with HP, Voodoo had discussions with other companies, as well.
HP is the only PC company with a true heritage of innovation, and because innovation has always been important to us at Voodoo, HP was our No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 choice.
When the acquisition was complete, HP execs Todd Bradley, Phil McKinney, and Paul Campbell joined Ravi and I for a team call to Calgary while we were at the launch event in New York. The team was blown away, they roared in delight, and it was a very moving experience for us.
In January we attended CES, our first official joint event. A typical visit to CES requires a three-hour wait in line just to get your credentials; when you make it to the front of the security line, you must produce countless pieces of ID to prove you are who you are. I was expecting more of the same this year, but the minute I arrived at the hotel I saw an HP desk. Behind the desk was a great guy who said “Oh, are you Rahul? Here’s your badge…” That was the first sign that things had changed significantly.
We attended the Pure Party at Caesars Palace. HP had set up an area called “The Voodoo Lounge.” Words cannot explain the emotions that went through both Ravi and I as we saw the giant Voodoo banner and the celebration of technology that ensued. It was truly amazing. It’s like watching your baby grow up, graduate, get married, and have children all in one day.
There’s no doubt that HP has embraced the Voodoo brand. It has given us the freedom to express ourselves and stay true to our roots. The company let us have a separate Voodoo tent at CES, which we affectionately referred to as the “Unofficial HP House of Voodoo.”
The honeymoon may be over, but so far things have been quite positive. The camaraderie at HP is amazing, similar to the early days at Voodoo. Yes, it took 15 years to get here, and though it seems like a long time, our team’s accomplishments are quite extraordinary. I’m really proud of everyone who had a hand in making Voodoo what it is today.
...and man, ooooohhhh man, wait until you see what we have in store this year.
If you're interested in the background story on the acquisition click here.