Pages' Big Gamble

Developer

Of all the third-party software companies targeting the NeXT platform, probably none has more riding on it than Pages Software, the San Diego start-up with a fundamentally new idea in document creation and design.

Most other NeXT developers are either small-stakes players taking a flyer or multiplatform publishers covering a side bet. With 23 employees and $3.5 million in venture capital, Pages has the size and funding of a full-fledged software start-up. And it has placed all its chips squarely behind NeXT.

"We can be NeXT's Aldus," says President Larry Spelhaug, who came to Pages from the real Aldus. "Macs sold because of PageMaker. NeXTSTEP will sell because of Pages." That's not just bravado. By packaging the expertise of graphic de-signers for use by nonartists, Pages represents a brand-new approach for creating business documents.

The question is whether the NeXT market can sustain a large organization and sophisticated product. Now, with Pages by Pages ready to ship after three years of development, Spelhaug and company are about to find out.

The concept behind this innovative product dates back 15 years, to when Vic Spindler, a New York graphic artist, began playing with the notion of "a software program that could do for design what Gutenberg did for type." Of course, this was long before the inception of desktop publishing, when the state of computer tools for graphic design was limited at best.

During the 1980s, Spindler hooked up with Mike Parker, a veteran of the electronic-publishing industry who, among other accomplishments, was one of the founders of Bitstream, the electronic-type foundry. Spindler and Parker took the idea to a variety of established software publishers but found none ready to take a risk on an unproven concept.

In June 1990, Parker divested his interest in Bitstream and put up the seed money to launch a company with Spindler. While the two founders fleshed out the concept by analyzing thousands of documents and breaking them down into standard, repeatable elements, they brought in Bruce Webster to head up development.

Webster, the well-known author of The NeXT Book, knew that NeXTSTEP was the perfect environment for prototyping and developing the product. He was not as certain, though, that NeXT would be the right platform on which to release it.

Early development went quickly. Webster laid out a user interface governing the application of document elements, while  Pages' Big Gamble Spindler and Parker worked on the companion design models. Webster demonstrated the prototype to Steve Jobs, who loved what he saw: a potential breakthrough application that could differentiate NeXT in the publishing arena.

In March 1991, the company demonstrated Pages publicly at a Seybold conference, where it received a great deal of attention. In December, Paragon Venture Partners took the lead among several blue-chip venture firms in backing Pages to the tune of $3.5 million. One of the conditions for funding was that the company hire an experienced software executive to run the company.

Enter Spelhaug, a computer-industry executive with 25 years of expertise in computer-based publishing. Among his career highlights, Spelhaug directed Xerox's entry into the desktop-publishing market with Ventura Publisher and later ran marketing for Aldus Corporation, the leading publisher of graphic-design software for desktop computers.

Knowing that he had a good product, Spelhaug set out to build a strong company. He quickly added Rand Schulman from Island Graphics to run sales and marketing; Jim Hamerly from Xerox to manage R&D; John Curry from Chipsoft to control finances; and Dave Krich from Claris to establish testing and quality-assurance programs. He also clarified the roles for Spindler as product manager; Parker as director of design models; and Webster as chief architect.

"This is not a couple of guys in a garage, but an exceptionally experienced team," Spelhaug says. "This is a structure scaled to support a $20 million business."

But it is also a gamble that the NeXT installed base can support such a large operation. Spelhaug says that NeXT was the right bet for Pages, since it provides a chance to establish a dominant market share on a technologically advanced platform. By defining the product as general-purpose document-creation software for writing, designing, presenting, and publishing, Pages has a chance to capture the broad mainstream of the market. With sufficient penetration and sufficient success for NeXTSTEP '486, Spelhaug is confident that Pages can live up to its business plan.

Down the road, the company foresees possible ports to other platforms – certainly Windows NT looms large. But that's a wager for another day; first Pages has to collect on its NeXT gamble. The wheel is spinning.

by Dan Ruby