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Lotus position: IBM kills the name, but software and founders live on

By Julie Sartain, Network World
February 04, 2013 06:09 AM ET

Network World - Thirty-one years ago, Massachusetts-based software developers Mitch Kapor and Jonathan Sachs created a program — an electronic spreadsheet — that would change the world. A year later, on Jan. 26, 1983, Lotus Development Corp. released Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC and grossed $53 million in sales. The following year, sales tripled to more than $150 million.

Many other Lotus products have come and gone through the years including Symphony, SmartSuite, and Lotus Works. But the greatest and most successful product was Lotus Notes (aka Domino/Notes), a new type of software program labeled "groupware," which was designed for several computer users to collaborate on projects from long-distance locations via a network.

Notes was founded and developed in 1984 by Ray Ozzie, Tim Halvorsen, and Len Kawell, with Steven Beckhardt soon to follow. The product did not launch until five years later. Sheldon Laube, the CIO of Price Waterhouse, contracted for 10,000 copies of Lotus Notes the day before it launched, which contributed significantly to the product's acceptance and initial success. The CIA also ordered 10,000 units for its agents and staff.

THEN AND NOW: Watch a slideshow of Lotus' main players

IBM bought Lotus in 1995 and kept the Notes product line alive. IBM announced in December that the newest release of Notes/Domino would drop the Lotus name. And the annual Lotusphere conference was conducted last week under the name Connect 2013.

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So, we decided to go back and talk to the original Lotus braintrust and see what they're up to these days.

MITCH KAPOR

Mitchell D. Kapor was 32 years old in April 1982, when he founded Lotus 1-2-3. He had previously developed two business programs for VisiCorp: VisiTrend (a statistics program) and VisiPlot (a program that generated business charts). He made $500,000 on the spreadsheet version, VisiCalc, before VisiCorp bought him out for $1.7 million. But Kapor wanted more — he wanted a spreadsheet that would translate digits into graphs and calculate numbers at lightning speed, so he partnered with Jonathan Sachs to develop Lotus 1-2-3.

I think 30 years was a really excellent run, and all things must pass.

Kapor raised $5 million (from investors) and, in January 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 became the number one software program on the planet, selling close to 110,000 copies in nine months at $495 per unit. By December 1983, Lotus was the second largest software company in the world (behind Microsoft) with sales of $53 million (which tripled) and a staff of 250 (which doubled) by 1984.

Today, Kapor has several projects in progress: www.kaporcapital.com, www.LPFI.org , and www.mkf.org, in addition to his main website at www.kapor.com. He's a partner at Kapor Capital, "an investment fund based in Oakland, CA that invests in seed stage information technology companies that aspire to generate economic value and positive social impact," including; for example, education, health, and consumer finance.

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