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Meet Jeff Drobman of Dr Jeff Software in Chatsworth

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Drobman.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was a Hughes Aircraft Doctoral Fellow getting my PhD at UCLA in computer science. Then took first full-time job, in the early tech industry, for Silicon Valley chip co. (“semiconductors”) Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) as a “Field Applications Engineer” (FAE) 1979-82.

The seminal moment for me was in Aug 1981, when IBM announced its first PC. I immediately knew IBM had a winner and that PC would take over the world. I suggested to AMD to make add-in cards for the PC, which would use as many of their key chips as possible. However, AMD management disagreed, with CEO Jerry Sanders telling me that they felt the PC was “just a fad”.

Well, even though I was right, and they were wrong, they were able to be successful to an extent, while I was not able to capitalize on my prescience. I then quit AMD in early 1982 and proverbially hung out my shingle as a PC software developer and consultant — one of the first to do that. Thus, began my journey as a wannabe tech entrepreneur.

Entrepreneur Round 1: Micro ESP — my first company (S corporation) — founded March 1982.

I proceeded to engage with the owners of local Computerland stores to sell my first product: “I/O Silver — Intelligent Office, Silver ed.” I recognized early on that what was needed for the PC application wise was an integrated set of office applications. I tried to add “intelligence” as a distinguishing feature. Unfortunately, timing was not my friend. The Computerland owners soon told me that there were Egghead software only stores popping up all around them (the next fad store), and that they had decided to abandon competing, and would not sell software anymore. Egghead then told me, “come back when you have sold a million copies.” So that ended that enterprise of mine on a sour note.

VCs

I was able to contact tech industry guru and top VC Ben Rosen, who told me to meet him at the upcoming Comdex in Las Vegas in Jan 1984. Back then, Comdex was the “it” tech convention. Rosen was the VC that funded Lotus. I met Ben at the Lotus Development booth, where he introduced me to Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, with whom I had a great tech talk about his development of Lotus 1-2-3. Rosen also was the VC who funded Compaq Computer, and he trotted me over to meet Compaq founder Rod Canion. Interestingly, at the Lotus booth, they ran demos of “1-2-3” on Compaq portable PCs, while at the Compaq booth, they also ran demos of “1-2-3” on their own Compaq portable PCs. Ben Rosen later became Chairman of Compaq. He unfortunately then politely refused to help fund my software company or even take a look at my product (said he was too busy, and also was running Borland software).

The Middle Ages

I struggled with various consulting gigs over the next 5 years. I was compelled back into the chip industry, and took another “FAE” job with my former AMD colleagues, who had moved on to a spinoff called Integrated Device Technology (IDT). After 9 years there, IDT was getting into the communications market with new ICs, but I felt they were in the wrong segment (ATM). After I could not convince them to make Ethernet chips instead of ATM ones (I was so right), I quit and joined a startup that was making Ethernet chips — and in Los Angeles (Calabasas) to boot. Our chips were so hot that big chip companies like Motorola, Intel, National, HP and more were lined up to buy us out. That was consummated by National Semi in 1998. So now, after only 1 year at what was arguably my best job and employer, I was suddenly out of a job.

Semtech (my last regular FT job)

Via a headhunter, I arrived at an old-line chip company in Newbury Park called Semtech. I had a great 3 years there as Telecom Market Segment Manager. In July 2001, I got slammed by the “dot com” bust which affected all telecom companies — my customer base — when all my customers began cancelling the orders I had worked hard to get. I got laid off in the 3rd wave of layoffs at Semtech (now in Camarillo). So, I was once again out of work, and out of luck. Headhunters told me the industry was not hiring any engineers at that time, especially not older laid off ones.

Entrepreneur Round 2 — Dr Jeff Software

With no other choice, I rebooted myself in 2003 as “Dr Jeff Software” — applications development and tech consulting. I even threw in being hired as an “expert witness”. I proceeded to lay out my business plan and approach VCs with my idea: software “apps”. At that time (2003-4), there was no such thing. I invented it in my mind by choosing to follow the hugely successful Apple iTunes model: mass online sales of small IP, in that case, songs. But it occurred to me that I could repackage my software into small applets or “apps”, and sell them cheaply online myself. The VCs could not see my vision, so I lost them.

Entrepreneur Round 2A — the iPhone

Apple comes out with the original iPhone in 2007, and all of a sudden, overnight, I had 50,000 competitors selling “apps”. It soon went to millions of apps. Even though most of those phone apps were just reconstituted websites and of low quality and low utility, they created way too much market fog for me to be noticed in.

I have since added to my company (kitchen sink approach):

1. Mobile/phone apps development
2. Website development
3. Website building and rental
4. Expert witness services
5. Tutoring services
6. Technical support services
7. App database (IP) licensing

The End?

So now here I sit. Entrepreneur round 2A done. Waiting for Godot, it seems.

For now, I fill my life with teaching (computer science at CSUN), coaching (youth baseball) and consulting (expert witness). That is what “older” engineers have to do, when “ageism” places us out to pasture. A bitter pill indeed. And then there is this residue of ageism: Tech and software companies hire my students, but not their teacher.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Lots of struggles, “Ageism” in the engineering world is very prevalent and is unwittingly destructive to the industry. Especially now that retirement is not so easy. Older engineers should at least be teaching STEM courses somewhere. A big waste of education and invaluable experience otherwise.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Dr Jeff Software – what should we know?
I have specialized in the development of Windows “.NET” applications (“apps”). I have developed for sale 3 such apps:

1. Stock Market Modeler (a 3-in-1 app)
2. Channel 88 — a TV guide app
3. Word World — a word group (similitudes) classified dictionary (10 categories) of the English language

For Word World, I have been working on building my dictionary of 36,000+ words and 10,000+ word groups over the last 10 years or so. I add new entries almost daily, after I think them up. My classification system is my own unique view of how best to categorize how and why words are “similar” — either because they sound alike (homonyms), or are spelled alike (anagrams and palindromes). I also have added a “Reference” category as a great resource for all kinds of abbreviations, acronyms, and the like.

I believe that I have great value in my fairly large databases — both Channel 88 TV shows and Word World proprietary dictionary. I believe my Word World dictionary is a valuable licensable database — for any developers who want to add suggested “word groups” to their text entry upon a few characters being entered. I am now advertising on Google such licensing.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Technology vision.

I was among the first to immediately perceive the huge significance of the IBM PC, and the opportunity it afforded to become the richest man in the world. Unfortunately, Bill Gates beat me (and countless others) out.

I was also one of the first to conceive of “apps” — packaging and selling small application specific software products via online (downloadable) sales model.

I also early on (ca. 2003) recognized the huge significance of the tech product holy grail: “convergence” of phone and computer (and TV, still not fulfilled, along with car in-dash play).

I also tried to tell BMW (I owned several) back in 2002, that real-time traffic maps would be killer add-ons to their in-dash nav systems.

But no success have I achieved, largely due to lack of ability to convince others (NIH factor?) early on of my visions.

Pricing:

  • all my app products sell for only $2.99 to $5.99

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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