Lessons Learned from Osborne Computing

This article:


has an interesting take on Osborne Computer’s fall, basically that it wasn’t a pre-announcement (the product shipped about a week after its formal announcement) that killed Osborne, but rather

(1) Basic cash flow issues. Osborne was undercapitalized at the start (VC’s wanted to put in the absolute minimum capital necessary before Osborne went public) and never generated sufficient cash flow during it’s rapid growth to create the cushion necessary to handle product (and the resulting financial) problems;

(2) Leaks from PR efforts that started 4 months prior to the product shipping (by embargoed journalists who had early looks at the product) which reached distributors who then stopped ordering the existing product;

(3) The replace-the-Founder-with-the-experienced-big-company-manager (who doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the business) issue;

(4) Intense competition in a fast-growing market with not one, but two major market shifts: from luggables to laptops, and from CPM to DOS.

It points to cash flow as the key metric for entrepreneurs to gauge the health of their business and business model, something that’s easy to forget in startups that receive 10’s of millions in funding (and especially in software startups that have low burn rates). Bootstrapper’s don’t have this problem: if they aren’t generating cash to build the business, they aren’t building the business. On the other hand, given the the rapid market growth, the resulting competition that Osborne faced, and multiple market inflection points, it’s hard to see how a purely bootstrapped startup could have made it in this market.


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