In the mid-1980’s, I had just opened up my small advertising agency, HAYES/ROTHWELL, on the second floor of an office building across the street from the Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, California.
We had not yet secured a client to get us talked about by Silicon Valley business executives, or by other highly competitive ad shops and public relations firms set up all around us. We needed exposure. And fast. Something to put us on the map. Before our little venture sank beneath the waves.
Agencies like ours often came and went without a whimper, every day of the week.
Then, it fell into my lap one fine day.
A couple of young software engineers from a company called ECAD dropped by our Cupertino offices to see if we’d be interested in helping them market a brand-new product. Their idea was a software testing program they called DRACULA.
It seems a bunch of young software geniuses were sitting around one night drinking beer after work and talking about this new idea.
A large computer chip manufacturer is always afraid to introduce a new IC to the market. It can become an integral part of the guts of all sorts of advanced electronic systems and devices. And failure is not an option.
A bad chip can spell disaster all the way down the line. So to protect themselves, companies invest in developing prototype chips before entering into any mass IC production.
I am not an engineer. So bear with me. My understanding in simplest terms is this.
A chip is tiny. Sometimes microscopic, if you will. And it is made up of many layers of intricate schematic designs, with all kinds of intersecting lines. The DRACULA software was created as a means of checking the accuracy of those schematic patterns. It employed a technique called Design Rule Checking (DRC).
During that drunken joke-around after hours, the ECAD boys tried to come up with a name. What, they asked themselves, was a name that included the letters D, R, and C in Design Rule Checking? One schlossed joker suggested DRACULA. Everyone laughed, saying no electronics company would ever take that name seriously. But the more they talked about it, the more it appealed to their “out-of-the-box” mentality.
These were the days when Steve Jobs was inventing a home computer in a nearby garage, and Nolan Bushnell was installing a crude version of a computer game he called PONG in a beer joint located next to the Stanford campus.
Out-of-the-box was in.
The plan was for a chip company to use DRACULA, employing DRC, to locate errors in the schematic drawings and show them as pinpoints of light. By catching these design errors early in a prototype a manufacturer could avoid costly product recalls, a loss of confidence, and any significant loss in time getting the finished chip out into a highly competitive marketplace.
The marketing staff at ECAD talked to their big bosses who were Chinese. They knew about fire-breathing dragons, flying reptiles and djinns. But they were stumped when quizzed about Romania, Vlad or Dracula. But they let their crazy kids take the gamble with the red-eyed man in the black cape.
Dracula was about to set Silicon Valley buzzing. And take his place in high-tech advertising’s Hall of Fame.